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Comparing the two conferences on Afghanistan The Excelsior 28 Dec 2021
Last week there were two simultaneous meetings held to discuss the scenario in Afghanistan and seek a way forward to resolve the crisis. Pakistan hosted the 17th extraordinary summit of the council of foreign ministers of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) while India hosted the five Central Asian Nations for the third India-Central Asian dialogue. The attendance in Islamabad was only 27 from the 57-member group, a fact that Pakistan has avoided admitting, as it would be embarrassing. The OIC conference also had observer delegates from the UN, US, Russia, China and the EU. Both the summits discussed resolving the imminent humanitarian and economic collapse in Afghanistan.
In Islamabad, PM Imran Khan addressed the gathering and projected, ‘If the world doesn’t act, this will be the biggest man-made crisis which is unfolding in front of us.’ He added that it was the religious responsibility of the OIC to assist Afghanistan. The Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsequently stated that the OIC will establish a Humanitarian Trust to serve as a vehicle to channel Humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan including in partnership with other international actors. This fund would be established by March next year, implying that during the winter months, Afghanistan would be ignored.
By the end of the OIC summit, no donations had been promised into the fund. Simultaneously no nation from the OIC group mentioned recognizing the Taliban led government nor promised food relief. Pakistan exploited the summit as an opportunity to display that it is the only nation seeking support for Afghanistan by shedding crocodile tears. Pakistan has no choice as it hosted the Taliban for two decades and imposed the Haqqani led government in Kabul. As an immediate neighbour with Pashtun population split across the Durand Line, Pakistan would face the brunt of unrest in the country.
Imran attempted to dilute global demands for equality for women when he backed the Taliban in denying education to women, with a lame example of rural customs. His words, ‘women’s rights and human rights are two different subjects,’ became a global joke. What Pakistan failed to mention, and which is well documented, is that it remains a major stumbling block in provision of aid to Afghanistan. India’s offer of 50,000 tons of food and medicines remains stalled due to terms and conditions placed by Pakistan. While Afghans suffer, Pakistan plays games with transhipment of aid.
It does appear that Pakistan is under pressure from the Taliban to act in its favour. The blackmail card with the Taliban remains the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the terrorist group with whom talks with the Pakistan government have failed. To add pressure on Pakistan, the Taliban directs the TTP to increase attacks. In addition, is the increasing flow of Afghan refugees into Pakistan straining its economy. On this Imran had stated, ‘We are not in a position to deal with influx of refugees.’
The India-Central Asian dialogue hosted by Indian foreign affairs minister, S Jaishankar, also discussed Afghanistan. The joint statement released at the conclusion of the dialogue called for providing ‘immediate humanitarian aid for Afghans.’ It also demanded that Afghanistan adhere to global demands on an inclusive government, rights of women, children and other ethnic groups, combatting terrorism and drug trafficking. It is these unfulfilled preconditions which have prevented release of blocked funds for the country and recognition of the current regime.
The OIC is unlikely to provide any major assistance to Afghanistan other than semantics, nor does it possess a global voice. It has ignored Uighurs in China and in most member nations human rights are non-existent. Further, nations within the group place national interests before common cause. Pakistan’s attempts to exploit the OIC to bring pressure on India on Kashmir and Israel on Palestine has ended with a whimper as nations within the group view their relations with India and Israel as more beneficial than ties with Pakistan or supporting its demands.
An editorial of 21st Dec in the Dawn stated, ‘The OIC has over the years built up a reputation that has not inspired too much confidence. Its words usually speak louder than its actions and something similar appears to have happened at this latest meeting in Islamabad.’ It added, ‘this was evident in the 31-point resolution issued at the end of the summit which was short on specifics and gave no figure for financial assistance.’
Despite all announcements, assistance to Afghanistan would flow from the global community rather than members of the OIC. Surprisingly, not a single OIC nation has accepted any Afghan refugee. The only positive take home from the summit was a subsequent announcement by the US easing sanctions to permit aid being dispatched to Afghanistan.
Interestingly, the five Central Asian nations foreign ministers were in India, while their deputies were in Islamabad. They realized that India led meeting were more beneficial than the OIC summit. The common demand for unhindered access to Afghanistan has been ignored by Pakistan, which claims to be Afghanistan’s mouthpiece for global support. If Afghan’s suffer, the blame must rest with Pakistan.
The Taliban have also ignored global demands indicating that their interest lies in obtaining aid while refusing to bend on their Islamic principles. This standoff between the global community and the Taliban has resulted in the suffering of its population, which has no voice. Pakistan, which claims to have influence over the government in Kabul has also not been able to push this logic onto it, on the contrary has been backing the Taliban view. The OIC should have also enforced this precondition but only appointed a group of clerics to discuss global demands of rights for women and children with the Taliban led government.
The current stalemate between the Taliban and the world has largely resulted in discussions with no positive outcome. The standoff has also increased the suffering of its population. Pakistan has done little to push the Taliban government to adhere to global preconditions, displaying that it prefers Afghanistan remains at its mercy and under its influence rather than integrate with the global community. With winters setting in food shortages in Afghanistan would rise and its population would face hardships. Pakistan acting as a stumbling block to free movement of aid must be held responsible for the current Afghan suffering.