Pakistan’s constant position has been to call for a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan involving all parties, like them or not, with a key goal of averting yet another humanitarian and refugee crisis. Whilst it may sound like a worn-out record to some, the clarity and purposefulness of this message never diminished over the years.
Since several countries and mindsets are now keeping Afghanistan and its seemingly intractable problems at arms’ length, the crisis is far from over. It’s indeed relief that a never ending war has apparently ended. But what about the Afghan citizens who are now experiencing a harsh winter of economic misery? The impartial voice of the UN across the board has been unequivocal, right from the Secretary General himself. The UN has highlighted that 23 million Afghans are currently facing unprecedented levels of hunger. This shocking, unacceptably high number grows daily as even the small middle class is being pushed downwards in an already poverty stricken country. When hopelessness reaches a new low point, the pressure to move will become inevitable. Already desperate, mostly young people are risking life and limb on perilous journeys through Iran to Turkey which, like Pakistan, have huge numbers of refugees. Surely this is not an outcome that anyone wants. To think that the refugees will not bleed into fortress Europe is also a miscalculation.
There has to be a middle road that bridges the ideological posturing on all sides. It is tempting for some to insist that the Afghan humanitarian crisis is now someone else’s baby but surely the old adage that ‘you break it, you own it’ remains relevant. Which fingers have not been in the Afghan pie? Beyond acknowledgement of the moral responsibility there has to be the simple humanitarian one.
By helping the Afghan people at this critical juncture, the international community can nudge, push and influence that country towards an incrementally inclusive approach that guarantees human rights, particularly those of girls and women. Ignoring them now will only worsen their lot. Collective punishment has never been the answer to any problem. Or are the cruel and the cynical waiting for some kind of total meltdown as if to prove some perverse point? And the cost of such a policy in human terms is the unnecessary and untold suffering of millions, with children affected the most.
Furthermore, the awful ongoing experience of the global Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the folly of ignoring international coordination and the necessity of collective action. In today’s interconnected world let no one have any delusions that they can be immune from far away problems that they mistakenly believe do not concern them. An Afghanistan that cannot even feed itself will be hard pressed to take care of its healthcare challenges. The cruel, ever mutating virus that jumps continents in the blink of an eye will find fertile ground in that country.
As for those who constantly harp on about Pakistan giving ‘safe haven’ to all kinds of people, how about this thought: Yes it is true. Pakistan has given safe haven to five million Afghans for 42 years. Unlike some other cruel nations who have a penchant for preaching, Pakistan never turned anyone away, whether it was the Poles in 1948 or the Bosnians in the 1990s or the steady trickle of Rohingyas since the 1980s till now.
Whilst the Afghan people are the primary victims of this conflict, the entire region has suffered immensely. Held back from achieving its true potential through the dividends of enterprise and commerce in an interconnected region, Afghanistan is now in reverse gear which is the recipe for more trouble in the neighbourhood.
Unfortunately neighbouring countries, which are on the cusp of vastly accelerating and integrating their economies in strong cross-regional linkages, find themselves confronting another potential era of instability on their borders. Instead of utilising their limited resources for creating opportunities, these will have to be diverted to crisis management needs. Whilst Pakistan has never expressed ‘refugee fatigue’ as some of the wealthier countries have, with its own domestic economic pressures it cannot absorb another huge wave of refugees to add to the existing millions.
The objective of the upcoming Extraordinary Session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers is ostensibly to refocus the world’s decreasing attention on the plight of the Afghans. As part of the Islamic fraternity, it is obligatory on so many levels to step up to the plate and help fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. It is a timely and important conference. Its sponsors need encouragement and support.
The OIC is the largest group after the UN itself. It must make itself a relevant and effective global voice as it did with the Rohingya crisis, even to the extent of securing in 2018 its first ever Joint Resolution with the EU in history at the Human Rights Council. Where is a similar determination of purpose for the Afghans today? Are they not suffering? The OIC Extraordinary Session must be beyond warm, feel-good words elaborating lofty principles. It must aim to secure cold, clear, tangible and urgent steps, especially economic, which actually help the Afghan people. Whilst the world should not fail the Afghan people in their winter of despair, equally a feeble response by the OIC will surely be a savage indictment of the current state of the Ummah. Indeed, the OIC more than ever needs to strengthen the confidence of ordinary citizens across the Muslim world. Abandonment of Afghanistan cannot be the legacy of the OIC.