Last August, Canada decided to evacuate Afghanistan in the mess that we have seen. One of the serious problems has been leaving behind several thousand Afghans awaiting visas to come to Canada, many of whom worked for the Canadian military during the years of occupation. These people fear for their lives in the context of the return of the Taliban and hope to leave the country as soon as possible. Moreover, those who are waiting for a visa are not only the collaborators of the foreign armed forces. There are said to be at least two million Afghans who want to leave their country under the current circumstances.
However, neighboring countries are trying to prevent Afghans from arriving. In northern Pakistan, where there are two million refugees, the Pakistani government remains the Taliban’s main ally and does not want to open its border further. In this country, Afghan refugees crowd into camps where infrastructure is minimal, unless you want to take the risk of being on the streets, where you can be manhandled, arrested or swindled at any time. In addition, the Pakistani government prohibits international organizations from reaching out to Afghan refugees and those who want to help them, including Pakistani NGOs.
Beyond speeding up visa procedures, the problem lies in relations with Afghanistan’s new Taliban government. This question rebounds dramatically through the humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, more than half of the population is threatened by food insecurity in this period when winter is approaching. Thousands of people are forced to give up or even sell their children to avoid the worst. Most Western countries are reluctant to negotiate with Afghanistan, and in practice aid does not reach its destination.
On the other hand, the United States seized the bank deposits of Afghanistan (several billion dollars). For NGOs, transferring money is at their own risk, as it contravenes laws and regulations that prohibit doing business with entities defined as “terrorists” (this includes the Taliban). In big cities, like Kabul, people flock from rural areas to pile up anywhere, including makeshift refugee camps. As always, it is the most vulnerable who suffer the most. Policies imposed by the Taliban victimize women. Despite promises from some Taliban leaders upon their arrival in Kabul, the message is very clear: women must stay at home. The semi-paralysis of institutions, the civil service and the school system is added to this extremely serious situation.
There is little coverage in the media of the protests against the new regime. In reality, the discontent of the population is palpable. The Taliban power has chosen to minimize direct repression, nevertheless, it seeks to eliminate all dissent. And yet on the ground, local organizations, networks, communities continue to act, partly to help the most disadvantaged such as homeless people, and partly to inform themselves and send a message to the rest of the world. : “We are still here”! A few international NGOs remain active, even if their work in support of these communities remains very limited.
Canada must act
For over twenty years, Canada was part of the US-led coalition that purported to get the country back on track. As we now know, it was a failure, despite the efforts of those who have developed partnership links with civil society.
For now, this country continues to fall apart. The Taliban is not a solution. The regional context means that the United States can no longer and no longer want to intervene. But is this a reason to remain indifferent to the current catastrophe?
As part of concerted UN action, Canada must welcome the 25,000 people who have worked for Canadian agencies as quickly as possible. This is urgent, but not sufficient. We must help the others who, for the moment, are holed up in the houses and alleys of Kabul, or who survive in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.
To do this, official ties must be reestablished with the Taliban regime. To recognize them is not to support them, nor to be silent about the violations of rights. But this would allow the re-establishment of consular services and the establishment of agreements allowing humanitarian agencies to return to Afghanistan.
Canada must also put pressure on Pakistan. The important Canadian aid program should be revisited when considering what Pakistan can do to alleviate the crisis, especially with regard to the large number of Afghan refugees in the territory.
Finally, Canada should make it easier for NGOs to re-establish links with their community partners in Afghanistan. In particular, we must help women’s movements and human rights organizations. The networking between these organizations and the large Afghan diaspora in Canada could generate significant support.
Afghanistan suffered the throes of the “endless war” declared by the United States at the turn of the millennium. The “collateral” effects of this war have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, while destabilizing governance and the economy everywhere. The disorderly and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan mirrors what this aggressive policy has been and today we are on the brink. The fallout from this mega-crisis will not remain isolated to the region. The crisis is already undergoing a transformation through the increasing number of clashes which could jeopardize global security.