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Crisis situation in Afghanistan can escalate and complicate global security

By Azhar Azam | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-10-31 16:52

An Afghan holds her one-year-old baby in the malnutrition ward for infants at the Indira Gandhi Children's Hospital in Kabul on Saturday. JORGE SILVA/REUTERS

Afghanistan faces an uncertain future after the government in its mid-year budget review made a downward revision of revenue targets and cut appropriations for development expenditures. Sharp reductions in international aid are now driving a collapse in basic health and education services, with the sudden loss of public sector activity representing a stark economic and development outlook of the country.

While a widening balance of payment and very large trade deficit (28 percent) is threatening to push 10 million additional people below the poverty line, the UN report paints a grim humanitarian picture of Afghanistan, warning one in two Afghans can face high levels of food insecurity in the winter season.

The devastating drought, affecting 25 of 34 Afghan provinces, and increased conflict, driving more than 664,000 people out of their homes, triggered this acute food crisis. Nevertheless, the freezing of $9.5 billion in national assets compounded the situation as a moribund economy led to disruption of the banking system, and devaluation caused high unemployment and soaring food prices.

After the Taliban captured Kabul, the US froze Afghanistan's foreign assets and stopped shipments of cash to the already suffering nation, exposing the cash-strapped population to dire humanitarian and development challenges. Washington's action threatens the Afghan economy, 43 percent of which is reliant on foreign aid, and 97 percent of people are at the risk of sinking below the poverty line.

In the UN-hosted September's conference in Geneva, donors pledged more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid, including $200 million for the World Food Program, only after the agency said 14 million Afghans were on the brink of starvation. As 93 percent don't have enough to eat, the US antipathy toward the Taliban shouldn't hold it back in helping Afghans stave off the appalling food scarcity and economic meltdown.

Washington's humanitarian aid for Kabul ($474 million) is less than two-day of America's war expenditure in Afghanistan that averaged $300 million a day in the last 20 years. On top of this, the US has been reluctant to provide economic assistance or at least release Afghans' money to bolster their fight against hunger and support the country's long-term development.

The G20 in a special summit later agreed to combine efforts with the Taliban to laser-focus the looming humanitarian crisis emanating from Afghanistan's economic collapse. But unless sanctions on Kabul are lifted, and its billions of dollars remain confiscated by Washington, any attempts to circumvent the humanitarian disaster won't succeed.

In a bid to avoid recurrence of the 2015 migration crisis, when over one million asylum seekers, including from Afghanistan, gathered around the European Union external borders, Brussels announced a humanitarian package of 1 billion euros for Afghanistan. Yet the bloc shelved Afghan development assistance of 1 billion euros that could have helped alleviate poverty, create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The Western governments don't want the Taliban to fail over self-centered interests such as risks of a mass exodus of Afghan refugees, terror threats and narcotics trade. After all, they have now formed a government in Kabul and are administering a chaotic country and institutions with banks running out of money, unpaid civil servants and surging food prices.

As such a scenario would undermine the so-called US "enduring" counterterrorism efforts, let alone its support for human rights of all Afghans, including women and minorities, therefore it is important for the West to quickly realize the fact and find a working relationship with the Taliban before the situation spirals out of control.

The UN has also been calling for the release of Afghan foreign assets to undo a "severe economic downturn" that could set Kabul back for generations and push millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger. Stressing the Taliban should be given an opportunity to "do things differently," it says humanitarian support, though saves lives, won't balance out the threat of the country's economic collapse, and there is a need to make the economy "breathe" again.

Washington shouldn't make the drought-hit nation pay for its failures in the Afghan war or just because the US military wasn't winning the battle and had been losing ground to the Taliban every year. Hunger is crucifying millions of Afghans. At this "make or break moment" when the IMF predicts the economy to shrink by 30 percent, the US continues to snub demands of the people of Afghanistan to release their frozen reserves just to keep leverage on the government in Kabul.

The US pursues to assert restrictions on the Taliban while continuing humanitarian aid for the Afghan population, expecting the move won't harm them. But the gamble could fire back and fuel hatred for America among vulnerable Afghans who are being rounded up by the tumbling economy and battle for supremacy between Kabul and Washington. Since countries with food shortages are more likely to experience terrorism, the simmering situation could boil up into full-blown violence that would prompt intense security implications for Afghanistan and the entire world.

Azhar Azam writes on geopolitical issues and regional conflicts.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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