West has a moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan

West has a moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan

West has a moral responsibility to the people of Afghanistan
Short Url

After the chaotic Western withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August last year, hundreds of thousands of people who believed in the West’s promise of a modern, democratic Afghanistan were left behind and at the mercy of Taliban reprisals. The West still owes these people.

From interpreters who helped the foreign armies carry out their operations during the occupation to the women who were educated in Western-funded schools and went on to work in public administration and other public-facing roles, thousands upon thousands of Afghans whom the Taliban will wish to punish were left behind during the chaotic evacuations of last summer. Then there are the families of these people, as well as so many other ordinary civilians who did not necessarily serve with the occupying forces but who came to find opportunities in the democratic order that the US-led coalition tried to build. These opportunities have now been taken away, leaving them with no livelihoods.

Beyond the reprisals, ordinary Afghans of all political inclinations and loyalties now suffer extreme hardships due to Western sanctions, which were supposedly designed to punish the Taliban for their authoritarian excesses and human rights abuses. Certainly, there must be consequences for the conduct of the Taliban. But we must be aware of the fact that the people who are actually suffering the most from these sanctions are the poorest and most vulnerable civilians.

And the numbers are staggering: 22.8 million people, which is more than half of Afghanistan’s population, are at risk of acute food insecurity, with only 5 percent of the total population believed to regularly get adequate nutrition. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last month warned that virtually the entire population of Afghanistan was facing the threat of acute poverty in the coming months, with no obvious signs of a reprieve — at least not while humanitarian aid is being embargoed by Western sanctions.

Beyond the reprisals, ordinary Afghans of all political inclinations and loyalties now suffer extreme hardships due to Western sanctions. 

Dr. Azeem Ibrahim

For all those innocent civilians who had nothing to do with, and who wanted nothing to do with, the war — and especially for the Afghans who served with the Western occupation and who were left behind — the West has an ongoing moral duty to help alleviate the human suffering they continue to contribute to in Afghanistan, the Taliban notwithstanding. And if Western leaders will not lift sanctions relevant to food access for the people of the country and will not send in humanitarian support like they would in any other famine region, then they have a moral responsibility to at least accept the incoming refugees from Afghanistan.

A new plan penned by former UK Secretary of State for International Development Rory Stewart, put forward by the Atlantic Council and endorsed by senior diplomats and parliamentarians in the UK, EU, Canada and the US, argues that every Western democracy that participated in the Afghan project over the past two decades, and all their allies, should offer to resettle 0.05 percent of their population per year in refugees from Afghanistan as long as the humanitarian crisis there persists. In practice, the numbers would add up to 33,026 for the UK, 166,400 for the US and 120,000 for a coalition of willing EU member states. A significant number, to be sure, but only a fraction of the total immigration these countries see in any given year, so entirely manageable.

Short of collaborating with the Taliban and helping their government manage the country out of its current crisis, this is the only honorable way in which the West can fulfill its moral duty to the people of Afghanistan, particularly those whom they failed and left behind. Western nations are fully responsible for the mess left in the country on their withdrawal and, since we have already conceded that we cannot do anything about the future of Afghanistan itself, the only alternative left is to try and help those civilians who are looking to escape the country we broke.

  • Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Director of Special Initiatives at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy in Washington D.C. and author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017). Twitter: @AzeemIbrahim
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view