Abandoned Afghanistan, Are You Ok?
The people of Afghanistan are feeling abandoned as they await international assistance following a devastating earthquake and years of political turmoil. The ruling Taliban recently requested financial aid from the United States of Americato alleviate the pressures of post-disaster reconstruction, economic collapse, soaring inflation rates and widespread famine, but citizens are still waiting to see if President Joe Biden will reverse his country’s foreign policy position and assist everyday people, including those who worked with US forces during the war against the Taliban.
A 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan in the early hours of the morning on June 22, 2022. This was the deadliest earthquake since 1998, as it was approximately 6.2 miles deep and its tremors were felt across a 310-mile area.Before the earthquake, the central Asian country was already facing one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, which has worsened since US forces withdrew in mid-2021. Unfortunately, the country with the greatest ability to alleviate the suffering of many Afghan people is the country least willing to deal with the Taliban, and therein lies the problem.
Biden’s position is complicated. Financial aid for Afghan citizens would be given to the Taliban, as this group rules the country, but Biden is reluctant to help, or be seen to help, a group regarded as a terrorist organisation in many parts of the world. He might also face a severe political backlash among conservative forces and anti-Islamic elements within the United States, a country already grappling with Trump-inspired social division.
Ironically, it was under Trump that the Taliban seized power. In 2020, the US-Taliban Agreementprompted the eventual withdrawal of US and Allied forces. Shortly after its signing, the Taliban reportedly issued a religious decree that outlined its plan to establish an Islamic government in Afghanistan headed by the Taliban’s emir, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada. The decree, or fatwa, declared the violence would continue until the emir was ruler of Afghanistan.It is in this context that Biden must decide whether to send aid to the country.
Further complicating the issue is the official US policy towards the Taliban. On July 6, 2022, Biden declared his intention to formally revoke Afghanistan’s status as a ‘non-NATO major ally’ of the United States. As a result of this position, Afghanistan would no longer be eligible for US materials, supply loans and assistance in the future –all elements which the earthquake victims and everyday people desperately need.
Meanwhile, the citizens of Afghanistan and the victims of the earthquake wait for help.
Multiple aid agencies, such as the UnitedNations Development Program (UNDP),fear for Afghanistan. They predict that by the middle of 2022, Afghanistan could face “universal poverty,” with 97% of Afghans living below the World Bank-designated international poverty line of $1.90 a day. What’s more, the country has the world’s highest number of people in emergency food insecurity, about 92% of the population faces insufficient food consumption, and around 9.6 million children are unable to secure food daily. This is why the Taliban is requesting US aid.
In addition, more than half of the 24.4million inhabitants need some form of humanitarian assistance, especially after the earthquake, in a country already living through the worst drought emergency in more than 30 years. Such is the suffering of citizens that the list of the most at risk people is very long, and includes those living in poverty, minority groups, undocumented recent returnees, children, adolescent girls, the elderly, households headed by women, people with disabilities, marginalized ethnic groups and those exposed to forced, multiple and often extended periods of displacement.
Afghan people are also waiting for the United States to honour its promise. The US government promised to secure green cards, and thus US citizenship, for people who assisted US and Allied forces during the war against the Taliban. These everyday people and civilians undertook these tasks, such as working as interpreters, at great risk during the conflict, with the understanding of a green card, or at least that their country would be ruled by a government friendly to the US and allies. When the Taliban eventually seized control and the US forces left, many citizens feared for their lives, and the lives of their families, as the Taliban started punishing those who had worked with their enemy. Many of those people were promised a new life in the United States, but have not yet been granted citizenship.
A large number of these people are currently stuck in the United Arab Emirates waiting to learn if they will be given the green cards. If they return to Afghanistan, they fear greatly for their fate at the hands of the Taliban, and are thus hoping to live the rest of their lives safely in the US. The question is, will they be given what they were promised, and if so, when?
Political considerations are stalling the repatriation and rebuilding process. Specifically, the Taliban is requesting that the US return frozen Afghan overseas assets and return about $US7 billion, which would greatly assist in helping those with immediate needs, and go towards rebuilding the nation in the long term. They also argue that the dire state of the nation’s infrastructure can be directly attributed to the damage inflicted during the extended US-led war, and that the US and their allies have an obligation to contribute to the rebuilding of the country.
The people of Afghanistan continue to suffer. They are living through the impact of a devastating earthquake which only worsened the suffering caused by existing social and political turmoil, extended drought, widespread poverty, religious extremism, economic collapse, soaring inflation rates and the rule of the Taliban. They have turned to the international community for help and have asked the United States to release assets and contribute money to alleviating the immediate daily hardship of thousands of people and to begin the rebuilding of the nation. Everyday people in Afghanistan can only wait to see if they will be helped or abandoned.
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