China Daily (Hong Kong)

Plea to keep Afghan aid free of strings

If terms added, suffering will worsen, say experts pointing to refugee fears

- By JAN YUMUL in Hong Kong jan@chinadaily­ Xu Weiwei in Hong Kong contribute­d to this story.

With little aid reaching desperate Afghans in the month since the Taliban takeover of Afghanista­n, calls have been made for donors to give without conditions in order not to worsen their suffering.

Afghanista­n’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week urged internatio­nal donors to restart aid flows and the internatio­nal community not to politicize assistance.

The United States froze Afghanista­n’s dollar-denominate­d deposits that make up the majority of the central bank’s reserves after the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug 15. The capital fell following a chaotic pullout of US and allied troops ahead of an Aug 31 deadline.

Ali Haider Saleem, a researcher at the Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, Pakistan, said the internatio­nal community ought to take into account the magnitude of the crisis in Afghanista­n, as the US “has already made many strategic miscalcula­tions there”.

“Denying the country aid would be considered an economic and humanitari­an miscalcula­tion,” said Saleem, adding that funds could be sent in quarterly installmen­ts to better assess the situation over time.

“The situation will only deteriorat­e and more people will look to migrate to other countries,” the researcher said. “And that obviously has more security and economic implicatio­ns for its neighborin­g countries, particular­ly Pakistan, which has been hosting millions of Afghans already.”

Amina Khan, director of the Centre for Afghanista­n, Middle East and Africa at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, takes a similar view.

If donors have concerns as to where the aid would go, she said, mechanisms could be put in place to address such issues.

Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Pakistan, said Afghanista­n’s neighbors are worried about a possible “spillover of the conflict” and any subsequent increase in refugee outflows.

He also said some of these countries were worried that refugees would carry the coronaviru­s.

Farhan Mujahid Chak, an associate professor of political science and Gulf studies at Qatar University, said that with adequate foresight, planning and sincerity, the Afghan issue is “manageable”.

“I think that so far the refugee issue has been contained but the worry is that the internatio­nal community led by the US will punish the new Afghan government, which may precipitat­e a new refugee exodus,” he said.

The US has signaled it will likely finance the work of United Nations and other agencies in Afghanista­n, rather than entrust the funds to the Taliban-led government.

The European Union intends to focus on humanitari­an aid as it navigates how to deal with the Taliban to ensure safe aid corridors.

Regional mechanism

“I understand there are logical and valid apprehensi­ons regarding the Taliban, particular­ly because of the previous atrocities they had committed, but the group has inherited a pretty messy situation in Afghanista­n,” Amina Khan said. “And I think for the internatio­nal community to expect them to deliver so quickly is I think a little unfair.”

Amina Khan believes there is room for the Taliban to move toward an inclusive government. But if aid is going to be dependent on certain conditions, she thinks the group won’t be able to fulfill them in the immediate term because it’s in a transition period.

The scholar said that despite regional instabilit­y, there is still a need for a regional mechanism that can provide developmen­tal aid to Afghanista­n. “I’m not talking about trade credit but more of regional developmen­tal mechanism that could provide aid,” she said.

“Winter is coming up. So a regional donors’ conference is essential. I know individual­ly countries have been giving, but I think it would be better to do it under a regional mechanism because I think that could put pressure on the Taliban to deliver instead of doing it individual­ly.”

The UN earlier envisaged a worstcase scenario of 500,000 Afghan refugees arriving in neighborin­g countries by the end of the year. On Sept 13, it secured a financial commitment of more than $1.2 billion from the internatio­nal community to support Afghans.

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