By Shazia Anwer Cheema
Ruthless winter is haunting Afghan children living in remote areas of a ruined country that had been an experimental laboratory for superpowers for the last four decades.
We remember over 1200 children including infants died last winter in Afghanistan due to malnutrition, non-availability of heating, and lack of medical care because a common Afghan has been going through extreme poverty after foreign troops ran away and the Taliban took over the country.
I have been writing extensively on the issue of death with hunger and death with cold in Afghanistan for the last year and have been raising questions that what is the fault of poor children and why the world is shy to help them. Regrettably, I do not find a point answer anywhere in the world.
The latest report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released on November 17, 2022, indicates that Afghans under the fear of death by cold are running away from their country and spreading to neighboring countries. UNHCR provided official figures but we know that unofficial figures are much higher than the official ones. Iran claims that up to 1 million Afghans have arrived in the country since the start of 2021. In Pakistan, of the 250,000 new arrivals reported by the Government, approximately 216,000 have approached UNHCR. The government of Uzbekistan says that 13,020 Afghans have arrived in the country since January 2021 and Tajikistan reports it has registered new 5,700 Afghans since the start of 2021.
When Afghan children are facing horrific death by hunger and winter, neighboring countries once again deliberating under Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan (Moscow, November 16, 2022) and demanding the immediate resolution of the serious economic crisis Afghanistan is going through. The UNHCR report coincides with the Joint Statement of the Participants in the Moscow Format Consultations on Afghanistan that was released a day before UNCHR Report. The Joint Statement is signed by special representatives and senior officials from Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. It may be noted no representative of the interim government of Afghanistan attended this conference. Therefore all talks were held when the major stakeholder of the issue was not present. The statement demanded immediate action from world bodies to save Afghanistan from further disasters and stated:
- The participants of the meeting discussed the current situation in Afghanistan with an emphasis on regional security, military-political stability, socio-economic and humanitarian issues.
- Reiterated their commitment to a peaceful, unified, sovereign, independent and economically developing Afghanistan, free from the threats of terrorism and drug trafficking.
- Afghanistan was requested to fulfill its commitments to eradicate terrorism and drug trafficking emanating from its territory, take more visible steps against all terrorist organizations, and to firmly fight, dismantle and eliminate them, so as to ensure that Afghanistan would never again serve as a breeding ground, safe haven or source of proliferation for terrorism. Participants reaffirmed their readiness to assist Afghanistan in this regard. In this context, participants strongly condemned the terror attacks targeting innocent afghan civilians at public places, including educational institutes and the recent attack at the Russian Embassy in Kabul.
- It was stressed that the placement of military infrastructure facilities of third countries in Afghanistan and in adjacent states is unacceptable.
- Expressed support for the Afghan authorities in developing crop substitution programs and cracking down on narcotics production and trafficking, and in their overall efforts to eliminate the drug problem.
- The importance of forming a truly inclusive government in Afghanistan, reflecting the interests of all major ethno-political groups of the country, was emphasized. The importance of practical engagement with Afghanistan in this regard was also highlighted.
- Underscoring that an economic meltdown in Afghanistan would lead to a mass exodus of refugees, promote extremism, terrorism and instability, concern was expressed about aggravation of the migration situation around Afghanistan, which could pose a threat to the peace and stability in neighboring countries. Participants noted that assistance to Afghanistan in restoring the national economy would create decent living conditions for the population and reduce the outflow of migrants abroad. The participants commended Afghanistan’s neighboring countries for the hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees and emphasized the importance of a safe, dignified, time-bound and well-resourced repatriation of refugees back to Afghanistan.
- All sides stressed upon the need to intensify efforts for the provision of humanitarian and economic assistance to the Afghan people in the post-conflict reconstruction of the country. The strengthening of Afghan authorities’ efforts to ensure the basic rights and freedoms of the population were noted as important. The sides also expressed their support for the fundamental rights of all ethnic groups, including minorities, women and children, providing equal access to justice and education respectively.
- Convinced that the forces responsible for the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan should take on main financial burden for the post-conflict reconstruction of the Afghan economy for the welfare and well-being of common Afghans without intervention in internal affairs of Afghanistan. Noted that all sections of Afghan society have requested in common that the US unfreeze overseas assets and urged to take all necessary steps to release the blocked afghan national reserves. Most of the delegations agreed to make a call to compensate for the damage caused to the Afghan people during the years of US – NATO presence.
- The relevance of coordinating regional efforts to promote intra-Afghan national reconciliation, strengthen security and stability in the region under the auspices of the Moscow format of consultations and other important forums such the Neigbouring Countries of Afghanistan, Delhi Regional Security Dialogue was noted. The participants expressed their readiness to continue joint steps towards a peaceful Afghanistan.
- Called for the development of common, coordinated approaches to cooperating with the interim government of Afghanistan, including at the United Nations. Participants supported the establishment of the international negotiating group on Afghanistan under the United Nations auspices.
The special representative of Pakistan for Afghanistan Mohammad Sadiq was of the view that we should focus on generating economic activity within Afghanistan to ensure a sustainable future. He was of the opinion that the world should work to find a realistic approach toward unfreezing Afghanistan’s financial assets because this step is the most important for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
I support the standpoint of Mohammad Sadiq that unfreezing Afghan assets is the foremost need and the United States should find some way forward for this hitch that is playing havoc with Afghanistan. Moreover, I also support his viewpoint that the region must continue to play a leading role in promoting peace in Afghanistan, and for that purpose economic stability is a must.
We remember that over 80 percent economy of Afghanistan was based on foreign funding, foreign donations, and foreign loans during the time of US-led Afghan governments before the Fall of Kabul on August 15, 2021. The abrupt closure of 80 percent of resources destroyed the economy of Afghanistan because the world has suspended almost all support to Afghanistan except what the EU and some other foreign countries are sending through UN agencies.
I believe Afghan children need instant help for their survival in already arrived winter and promises cannot keep them warm and cannot provide them adequate food they need to live.
Note: Writer Shazia Anwer Cheema is an author, columnist, and foreign affairs expert who writes for national and international media. She is a doctoral student and researcher in semiotics and philosophy of communication at Charles University in Prague. She can be reached at her: Twitter @ShaziaAnwerCh Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The views and opinions expressed in this article/Opinion/Comment are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk (DND). Assumptions made within the analysis are not reflective of the position of the DND Thought Center and Dispatch News Desk News Agency.