Muslim countries need to step up for Afghanistan

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Ambassador Nadeem Riyaz
As the US was discussing the pullout of its troops from Afghanistan, several commentators were forecasting a long-drawn civil war between the 350,000 US-trained Afghan security forces and the Taliban. However, this did not transpire and the lack of any resistance from the Afghan National Army allowed the Taliban to take over the entire country including Kabul in just eleven days. The element of surprise did not end here. The Taliban fully cooperated in the evacuation of the foreign troops and foreign nations. They even did not create any hurdles in the expatriation of skilled and educated Afghan nationals from their country despite their need for effective governance in their own country. The situation went from extraordinary to surreal when the Taliban and the US soldiers sacrificed their lives for a common cause near the Kabul airport. This is a tale of unprecedented cooperation of the Taliban with the international community as they maintained military presence on the Afghan soil under their rule. However, once the evacuation was over, the world forgot about the unprecedented magnanimity shown by a militia portrayed internationally as barbaric. The Taliban have been at the helm of affairs in Kabul for over four months. Their stay has been largely uncontested. The interim government announced by them has failed to bring them any international recognition. They have fallen short of the Western standards of human and women rights. The situation within Afghanistan must be seen in an Afghan perceptive and the culture and ethos of the tribal society. The fact of the matter is that the Taliban are a reality. They have their own ideology and compulsions and an inner struggle, maybe tacit, between the progressive and the traditional elements. Since their takeover of Kabul, they have shown restraints and a great deal of political maturity and statesmanship under difficult circumstances. International sanctions, imposed long ago, and lack of funds has made life very difficult not only for the Taliban but for the Afghan economy and population. The interim government of the Taliban failed to receive any international recognition and to make matters worse US $ 9 billion of their funds were frozen. The suspension of development and other foreign assistance by foreign governments and international financial institutions (IFIs) and lack of international financial and commercial transactions have exacerbated the situation. The Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse and severely cash strapped. Today, the Afghan economy lies in shambles. The country has no money to pay salaries and run institutions. According to UN estimates, around 23 million Afghans face crisis levels of hunger in the biting December/January cold. The World Food Program estimates 3.2 million children to be at risk of acute malnutrition, and the UNDP estimates that 97 per cent (almost all of its population) could fall below the poverty line if the current humanitarian crisis went unaddressed. The international sanctions against the Taliban is severely affecting the Afghans people. It is heart wrenching that the world watches as a serious humanitarian crisis brews in Afghanistan. The Afghans have for the last four decades been forced to take refuge in other countries owing to war and threat to their lives. However, presently, they are being pushed into a situation where they could be forced to move due to economic and food issues in the absence of any civil war or occupying force. This situation, if not addressed, has the seeds of not only killing a number of people, including children, but causing internal displacement and a political crisis which can affect the region and have repercussions extending to European shores. The international community needs to save Afghanistan from a humanitarian catastrophe and owes the people of Afghanistan a promise of economic recovery. The Afghans want to be masters of their own destinies, minus any occupying force, and the world must hold their hand in their Afghan-led and Afghan-owned economic recovery. However, in the present situation with no available banking channels it is easier said than done.Pakistan has been at the forefront of pointing out the fast deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have sounded the world leaders of the painful plight of the Afghan people and the impending catastrophe. Being home to over 3 million Afghan refugees for decades, Pakistan is well aware of the political, economic and social implications of any exodus of people from Afghanistan. The hosting of the 17th Extraordinary Session of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad on 19th December is a step in the right direction. With its focus purely on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the platform needs to yield positive outcomes for the people of Afghanistan.To ensure that the world remains engaged with the OIC, Pakistan has also extended invitations to members of the P5 and international institutions to be a part of the forthcoming conference.All eyes now remain focused on the forthcoming meeting in Islamabad and its possible outcome. The OIC has raised its voice for Afghanistan in the past and the need of the hour warrants that it extends the weight of 57 strong members of the Muslim bloc to the people of Afghanistan. Member countries are expected to express solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and consider concrete steps to address the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The conference is expected to refocus the attention of the international community of the rapidly evolving situation of Afghanistan not only the humanitarian aspect but also the wider implications of security and stability of the region and beyondA strong communique and a road map for Afghanistan would have an impact on world opinion and could mold opinion of world leaders to assist in overcoming the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and kickstart the stalled Afghan economy.Afghanistan is yet again at a crossroads where it requires the assistance of the Muslim Ummah to enable it to pass through its most testing time and avoid a widespread suffering, misery and death. Therefore, the conference needs to result in something concrete for averting the existing humanitarian crisis and the future economic recovery of Afghanistan.