Rajiv Saxena

Around US$150 Billion in nonmilitary US aid flowed into Afghanistan from the year 2001 to 2020, plus billions more from its allies and international organisations. For those two decades, Afghanistan’s economic development aid largely funded education, health care, governance reforms and infrastructure – including schools, hospitals, roads, dams and other major construction projects. One notable result in terms of education was that far more students were enrolled in school. The number of students jumped from 900,000 in 2001 to more than 9.5 million in 2020 all across the nation. Foreign aid helped build about 20,000 elementary schools, and the number of universities grew sharply as well. The number of Afghans enrolled in higher education programs soared from 7,000 in 2001 to about 200,000 in 2019. There were no female college students in 2001, but there were 54,861 in 2019.

The share of girls among all students reached 39% in 2020, versus only an estimated miniscule 5,000 in the year 2001.The Afghan people need the world support now more than ever. Currently, 1 in 3 people are hungry and 2 million children are malnourished. With drought, pandemic, and conflict the food security situation will continue to worsen, and hunger will rise dramatically.

Social situation in Afghanistan is getting bad to worse, if not worst, as Kabul gets colder and colder and citizens have made tents on the roads and parks in the capital city, converging from the remote corners of the ransacked and war torn nation. Hundreds of people are sleeping in Shahr-e-Nau Park, some in plastic tents, because they do not have enough money to return home. They arrived in Kabul in August when the Taliban were taking control of the provincial capital. People are dying due to hunger and families are selling their preteen daughters to 60 plus old white bearded, bald grandfathers, where humanity and morality has taken a back seat.

India has helped this nation to build its infrastructure, its battered roads, libraries, dams, hospitals and even its new parliament. The Taliban has banned the use of foreign currencies in Afghanistan, a move that could further disrupt an economy on the brink of collapse. “The economic situation and national interests in the country require that all Afghan use Afghani currency in their every trade,” the Taliban said.

The economy is struggling due to the withdrawal of international financial support after the Taliban took control. The US dollar had been used widely in Afghanistan’s markets. Afghanistan has also been hit by the exodus of foreign aid. Grants from overseas previously financed three quarters of its public spending. Dollars are also often used for trade in areas bordering Afghanistan’s neighbours such as Pakistan. “We believe that it’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” Deputy United States Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo told the US Senate Banking Committee last month. “The Islamic Emirate instructs all citizens, shopkeepers, traders, businessmen and the general public to henceforth conduct all transactions in Afghanis and strictly refrain from using foreign currency,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted online.

Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Afghanistan will no longer be able to access its resources, while the World Bank also halted funding for projects in the country. Last month, the IMF warned that the country’s economy could shrink by 30% this year, pushing millions into poverty and causing a humanitarian crisis. An estimated 14 million Afghans were already having trouble getting enough to eat before the disruption of aid. That situation is now growing direr, according to UNICEF.

The fund also said that Afghanistan’s economic woes could fuel a refugee crisis impacting neighbouring countries, Turkey and Europe. Already thousands of refugees have left the country. The country is also suffering from a severe drought, which has ruined much of its wheat crop and sent prices soaring. The United Nations World Food Programme has warned that millions of Afghans could face starvation due to a combination of the drought, conflict and China virus.

An eyewitness told the BBC that four couples were being married in a joint wedding in Surkh Rod district in the province of Nangarhar on Friday. They had taken permission from a local Taliban leader to play recorded music in an area used only by the women. Gunmen who identified themselves as Taliban attacked a wedding in eastern Afghanistan to stop music being played, killing at least two people and injuring 10 others, officials say. A Taliban spokesman said two of the three gunmen had been arrested but denied they had acted on behalf of the Islamist movement. Music was banned when the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. It has again been banned and for this marriage function, permission was taken to play recorded music. The new authorities have not yet issued such a decree.

According to Abdul Hadi Hamdarda, an official at Hamid Karzai International Airport, four planes from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Pakistan arrived in Kabul to supply food and medicines to the recently constituted interim Taliban administration. Afghanistan also received aid from neighbouring Turkmenistan by road, said Hamdarda. Afghanistan on Thursday received humanitarian assistance, including food and medicines, from five countries, an official said. The cash-strapped country, which suffered 20 years of war, is now in severe economic crisis, and poverty can be seen everywhere in the capital Kabul with people even begging for bread to survive. The US military and diplomatic withdrawal precipitated the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s takeover, disrupting aid delivery. Thousands of foreign aid workers and their Afghan former colleagues have left the country. The few exceptions include a handful of humanitarian aid programs: the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders and the World Food Program are all still operating in Afghanistan.

Millions of Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the world, with the majority migrating to neighbouring Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and Turkey during the 43-year conflict, which began with political unrest in 1978 and was followed by an invasion by the former Soviet Union the next year.

Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the US overthrew the Taliban government and fought with the Taliban fighters for two decades until the last year’s Doha peace deal. However, although Western powers have said that they want to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognise the Taliban government. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR has started airlifting aid into Kabul for the first time since the Taliban overran the country. The Agency’s spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said the agency is using land, sea and air routes to bring humanitarian relief into Afghanistan. She said, a plane carrying 33 tons of supplies for displaced Afghans reached Kabul and two additional flights are scheduled for this month. Further relief supplies have also been prepositioned in Uzbekistan, ready to be trucked into Afghanistan. UNICEF is planning direct payment to the teachers, who were teaching in the afghan schools. Database is getting ready for such massive work.

India cannot watch as mute spectator as people are going hungry and India reached out to Pakistan last month for sending food grains to Afghanistan via the land route, which will be safe, fast and will reach the people of Afghanistan in time of their need. While Islamabad has not yet said ‘no’ to the proposal, officials in New Delhi are hoping for a quick response so that they can organise the movement of aid as soon as possible.

On several occasions, India has expressed willingness to send humanitarian aid to the people of Afghanistan though it has cautioned the international community to think through the consequences of granting recognition to the Taliban regime. The Indian government sent a note verbale to Pakistan for allowing movement of trucks carrying 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan.

With winter here, and a financial crisis crippling Afghanistan, food shortages are imminent. Some countries like China, Turkey have started distributing food to Afghans in the last few weeks. India, which has a lot of goodwill among the Afghan people, also wants to do its bit, sources said. So, it has proposed the land route since transporting such a large quantity via air is difficult. Officials said the task of moving 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan would require sending 5,000 trucks via Pakistan.

Islamabad is looking at the proposal, but is said to have pointed out that the scale in terms of trucks and roads is something that it needs to figure out. The logistics suggest that Indian trucks may have to be allowed, or else it would require the wheat to be unloaded and loaded again into Pakistani trucks at the Zero Point on the Atari border. The complex process is one of the issues to be looked at,

But the Indian side is keen to send the consignment and is looking at it purely from the humanitarian point of view, and whether Pakistan is willing to let India help Afghans at this time of crisis. Much will depend on Rawalpindi’s response to the Indian request, and the Taliban’s willingness to accept the aid. The Taliban, in their conversations with Indian officials in Moscow and Doha, have indicated that they are amenable to receiving aid from India. But Pakistan remains the challenge in between the two countries.

Considered a key producer and supplier of various dried fruits in the world, Afghanistan exports its dry fruit produce to numerous countries around the world. Some of its most renowned dried fruit products include yellow figs, dried apricots such as the Shakepara and Ameri varieties, and Shundakhani raisins. If the trucks reach Kabul, while on returning back bring mouthwatering apricots and other delicacies which will earn much needed hard currency for them, besides will reduce the prices worldwide.

Rawalpindi has also negated the Indian invite to the Pakistan NSA for a meeting in New Delhi to discuss Afghanistan issue in detail, but it may also delay the humanitarian supply of the wheat such that Indians are seen in greater respect, as Pakistan is not seen in good light. Always opposed to any Indian role in Afghanistan, Islamabad has been more vocal, and active in its efforts to shut out Delhi over since the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. Pakistan counts on a friendly regime there for a bridge to central Asian region.

Let good sense prevail in Pakistan.

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