There is still hope of saving Afghanistan
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, representing the Muslim world, sent strong messages on Afghanistan last Sunday. At the initiative of Saudi Arabia and hosted by Pakistan - two key countries concerned with the situation in Afghanistan - the OIC held the largest international conference to address the humanitarian catastrophe and economic meltdown in Afghanistan since US forces existed the country in August after propping up a government for 20 years that soon crumbled into the hands of the Taliban.
The significance of the conference was not only by the level of attendance, including representatives of UN organizations, the EU, the Arab League, the GCC and permanent member states of the UN Security Council and Japan, but also by the urgent call to act and the immediate decisions made.
A strong message was delivered by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, which was reflected in the final resolutions of the conference, who warned against Afghanistan becoming a shelter for terrorist and extremist groups.
Another message was from the prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, who urged the US to delink the Afghanistan government – in reference to the Taliban which it has been in conflict with - from the 40 million Afghan citizens. He also urged against linking recognition of the new government to Western ideals of human rights.
Among the important messages is what the OIC secretary general, Hissein Ibrahim Taha, called for, which is for Afghan parties to work to advance the interest of Afghan people, protect lives, renounce violence and establish lasting peace in order to achieve stability and decent, prosperous lives for the Afghan people.
Indeed, the responsibility and pressure is on the Taliban, the ruling party now, to put aside differences, build confidence internally and externally, and prove themselves capable of running a country.
Taha expressed the commitment of OIC to support the peace process in Afghanistan and to cooperate on efforts to achieve peace. It will also increase its humanitarian work there through its mission in Kabul with the support of the member states, and through its newly created special envoy for Afghanistan to coordinate humanitarian aid and political engagement.
Since the Taliban took control of the country in August it has been spiraling out of control. The numbers are scary and extremely worrying. According to the UN, around 23 million people (half the population) are already facing hunger. Health facilities are overflowing with malnourished children, some 70 percent of teachers are not getting paid and millions of children are out of school.
The international community cannot continue punishing the Afghan people through sanctions that deprive them of humanitarian aid and economic resources for the functioning of institutions, schools and hospitals.
Meanwhile, winter is merciless in Afghanistan and COVID-19 is lurking at every corner. Economically, the currency is plummeting while prices of everyday basic needs are soaring, trade and investment are halted, the financial sector is wrecked and social services have collapsed. This is a recipe for disaster unfolding in the present grim reality and in the foreseeable future, politically, socially and economically, as people will be driven deeper into extreme poverty, displacement, and immigration, which means a rise in instability, human trafficking and human rights violations, illegal activities, extremism and terrorism - inside the country and beyond.
The Taliban are in desperate need of international recognition in order to access Afghanistan’s billions of dollars in frozen overseas assets and international assistance. Although the foreign minister of the Taliban government was present at the conference and delivered a statement as the representative of Afghan authorities, he was not invited to the official group photo nor were the Taliban recognized in the official documents. The international community made it clear that, to gain recognition, there are some conditions that must be met. Paying the price for this stalemate, however, are the Afghan people. Some compromises need to be made to save Afghan people’s lives and the future of Afghanistan from total disintegration.
The Taliban must realize that they cannot operate in isolation from the principles and obligations in the UN Charter, the OIC Charter and international agreements and conventions including human rights, nor can they rule exclusively without the participation of all Afghans, including women, in all aspects of the society and governance.
The international community cannot continue punishing the Afghan people through sanctions that deprive them of humanitarian aid and economic resources for the functioning of institutions, schools and hospitals. There must be means to deliver needed aid and funding through legitimate, accepted channels. Meanwhile, a process for sustained engagement and dialogue between the international community and Afghan parties should be created. These will be the priority tasks ahead of the mechanisms established by the OIC in the conference.
The OIC made very critical decisions with the establishment of a humanitarian trust fund, under the aegis of the Islamic Development Bank, to serve as a vehicle for channeling humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in partnership with other international actors.
It also launched an Afghanistan food security program, and requested the Islamic Organization for Food Security to undertake necessary work in this regard. Also, significantly, the OIC will arrange for a delegation of prominent religious scholars and ulema led by the International Islamic Fiqh Academy to engage with Afghan parties on issues such as, but not limited to, tolerance and moderation in Islam, equal access to education, and women’s rights in Islam.
There is hope for saving Afghanistan, but time is of the essence.
• Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1