Abandoning Afghan People Would Be ‘Historic Mistake,’ UN Special Representative Affirms to Security Council
Nov. 19, 2021 (EIRNS)—In a Nov. 17 briefing to the UN Security Council, UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons presented a gripping picture of the “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis facing that nation, and urged the Council not to abandon the Afghan people, who “now feel abandoned, forgotten, and, indeed, punished by circumstances that are not their fault. To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake—a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences.” Without glossing over any of the real problems existing in the country, in terms of security, inter-ethnic conflict, internal divisions within the Taliban, the administration of justice, and inequality in treatment of women and girls, Lyons nonetheless made the point that her general impression is that “the Taliban however is making genuine efforts to present itself as a government,” an effort “partly constrained by the lack of resources and capacity, as well as a political ideology.” The Taliban has been extremely useful in continuing to provide security to UN personnel throughout the country, to allow broad humanitarian access, she said.
Nonetheless, the country is now on the brink of a “humanitarian catastrophe that is preventable.” She stressed, “The financial sanctions applied to Afghanistan have paralyzed the banking system, affecting every aspect of the economy.” GDP has contracted by an estimated 40% and cash is severely limited. Traders can’t get letters of credit, and people who have worked and saved for years can’t access their savings, Lyons reported. Food and fuel prices are soaring. In her testimony, Lyons didn’t explicitly call for unfreezing the central bank assets, but in response to a question by Al Jazeera’s reporter James Bays on whether this should be done, she replied, “we’re looking at the money that has already been committed by the donors for the humanitarian work and making sure we have mechanisms in place to have that flowing. Unfreezing assets is something that is a decision by key countries.”
However, in pointing to the heightened risk of extremism—ISIL/ISIS has now increased its presence to almost all of Afghanistan’s provinces—Lyons implicitly did answer. A continued deterioration of the formal economy will “provide impetus to the informal economy, including illicit drugs, arms flows and human trafficking. The ongoing paralysis of the banking sector will push more of the financial system into unaccountable and unregulated informal money exchanges which can only help facilitate terrorism, trafficking and further drug smuggling,” she warned. And, she went on, it won’t just be Afghanistan but the whole region that will be affected.
Lyons estimated that humanitarian aid provided by the end of the third quarter has reached about 10.5 million people; but, she stated, this is not enough. “As we move into winter and households consume their very limited food stocks, we fear and predict that up to 23 million Afghans will be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.” Further, famine used to be seen mostly in rural areas, but now 10 out of 11 of the country’s most densely populated urban areas are expected to be equally “at emergency levels of food insecurity.” Lyons concluded: “This is not the time to turn our backs on the Afghan people. If we do, our collective failure will resonate for decades—as will the pain of millions of Afghans.”