Britain, Pakistan Urge Collective Response to Afghan Humanitarian Crisis

Britain and Pakistan Tuesday advocated a collective international response to scaling up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, which is facing mass starvation and economic collapse after the Taliban takeover of the country.

“A stable inclusive Afghanistan is our shared goal,” Christian Turner, the British high commissioner in Islamabad, told an international seminar in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.  

“I want to emphasize the U.K. is taking a pragmatic approach. We are talking to the Taliban,” he said.  

The British diplomat, however, stressed that issues related to counterterrorism, the rights of minorities, rights of women and school education for girls remain at the center of the dialogue with the Taliban.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the seminar the Taliban government has assured all neighbors of Afghanistan and extra-regional powers that they will not allow Afghan soil to be used for terrorism.  

“We have advocated and worked for the establishment of an inclusive polity in Afghanistan, respecting the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities as well as of women,” Qureshi said.

Qureshi said that Pakistan will host foreign ministers of Islamic countries later this week to mobilize support for providing food, medicine and housing to millions of people in Afghanistan. The Taliban and representatives from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, the United Nations and European Union have also been invited to Sunday’s “extraordinary session” of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The Islamist Taliban seized power from the Western-backed government in August following the withdrawal of the United States and allied nations from the war-ravaged country.

Washington and its allies responded by suspending financial aid and freezing Afghan monetary assets, largely held in the U.S. Federal Reserve, so they do not help the Taliban to reintroduce their hardline repressive rule of the 1990s.

The abrupt disruption of the assistance has left the Afghan economy, which heavily depended on external aid over the past 20 years, on the brink of collapse. The sanctions have led to the breakdown in most basic services, including electricity, health services and education, with prices for food, fuel and other basic staples rising rapidly and out of reach for ordinary Afghans.  

The Afghan banking system is only partially functional and cut off from the rest of the world due international sanctions. No country has granted diplomatic recognition to the new Taliban government over human rights concerns and lack of inclusivity.  

Former American diplomat Robin Raphel told the Islamabad seminar the U.S. and other Western governments remain focused mostly on evacuating vulnerable Afghans and avoiding any hint of recognition of the Taliban government. But saving lives of millions of Afghans should also be the priority, she said.

“The European Union and some European governments are now actively considering opening offices in Kabul to engage directly with Taliban leaders who are not on the terrorism list. The U.S. would do well to consider doing the same thing in my view,” Raphel said.  

The U.S. Treasury decided last week to allow personal and non-personal remittances to be made to Afghans while donors agreed to transfer $280 million from the World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).  

The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, will receive $100 million for health services, while the rest of the money will go to the World Food Program to assist 2.7 million people with food aid.

The WFP estimates that the number of severely food insecure Afghans is a staggering 22.8 million, more than 50 percent of the population.

An estimated 8.7 million people “are one step away from famine-like conditions” and around 95 percent of households are unable to feed themselves sufficiently on a daily basis,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP director in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul earlier this week.

“The impacts of the worst drought in 30 years and the economic implosion, crippling the country, the destructive legacy of the conflict, are all coming together. They are merging, they are layering and they are morphing into a tsunami of hunger and destitution across the country,” she warned. McGroarty said 3.1 million Afghan children have been diagnosed as malnourished in 2021.

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