The writer is a group manager in the Jang group.
While media around the world focuses on the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the daily horrors inflicted on Ukrainian civilians caught up in the conflict, an even greater tragedy is unfolding in Afghanistan. Furthermore, I do not intend to minimize the terrible suffering of the Ukrainian people, but to point out that tragedies can vary in their severity, scale and duration.
Since the takeover of the country by the Taliban, Afghanistan has been in a death spiral. Due to a lack of jobs and a severe drought leading to crop failure, an estimated 20 million people – half of the country’s population – are starving for lack of adequate nutrition.
One of the few Western mainstream media journalists who has lived and traveled in Afghanistan for more than a decade is Sune Engel Rasmussen whose April 2022 podcast interview by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is heartbreaking and heartbreaking. in his description of the food shortages there.
According to Rasmussen, the food shortage situation in Afghanistan is so severe that a single slice of bread costs 10 US cents (or Rs20 in Pakistani currency). Of course, since there are few jobs, it is also an unlikely purchase for most Afghans.
In the absence of any income, many Afghans have resorted to desperate measures to make ends meet. According to Mr. Rasmussen, “one of the ways to make money in Afghanistan if you don’t have a job and you have no other options is that you can either sell your children, for example a married girl, or you can sell organs, body parts.And I have met many Afghans now who have sold kidneys.
Apparently there is an active market in the kidney trade, with the wealthy benefiting from the sale of body parts by the poor and desperate. Herat would be the center of the organ trade.
The WSJ podcast titled “The Economy of Despair in Afghanistan” then tells the story of Gul Mohammad, a construction worker who lost his job and then, to make ends meet, borrowed money. Mr. Mohammad had to make one of two choices to repay his debt: sell his daughters in marriage or sell his kidney. However, since he and his wife had medical issues, they were not eligible as kidney donors.
Since the parents could not risk sacrificing the health of their eldest son who supports the family of 20 on his meager daily income, they decided to sell the kidney of their 15-year-old second son, Khalil. However, Khalil was not informed of their decision.
Mr. Mohammad received around $4,500 from the sale of Khalil’s kidney. This erased his past debts, but the result is that Khalil is no longer the active teenager who used to play football with his friends. He tires easily and feels exhausted most of the time, so he mostly stays indoors.
There is no easy way to stop the sale of organs by the poor in Afghanistan, even if it is illegal. As Mr. Rasmussen points out: “The fact is that if you repress the kidney sector, you repress the poorest Afghans in society.”
What is troubling is the widespread critical coverage by Western mainstream media of the Taliban’s recent move to require women leaving their homes to wear the burqa while ignoring the widespread devastation wrought by trade and financial sanctions. who have made the lives of the vast majority of the Afghan people hell.
Critics of the Taliban often overlook the fact that women (especially girls) bear the brunt of the food shortages faced by households in patriarchal societies like that of Afghanistan. Thus, during a famine, the death rates of women increase much more than those of men. Women obviously need nutritional support before they can educate themselves and leave their homes without a male escort.
If the world is waiting for the Taliban to accede to its demands for women’s rights before being recognized by the Afghan government, it will be a very long wait.
Think about the situation from the perspective of the Taliban. (As a negotiator, it is always advisable to put yourself in the other party’s shoes to better understand). They have withstood the mightiest assaults of the world’s only superpower for two decades.
Taliban strongholds have been bombarded relentlessly with the deadliest non-nuclear munitions, including the 21,600 pound fuel-air bomb dubbed the “mother of all bombs” which does not destroy armored vehicles but, due to the overpressure, ripping out the lungs and internal body parts of all living things within a mile of the blast radius.
Drone attacks have also killed countless civilians that the US government is loath to admit.
Despite the carnage unleashed on the Afghan people by the American military machine in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attack (in which no Afghan citizen was involved in either planning or execution), Taliban forces entered in Kabul without any armed resistance in August 2021.
Now victorious, the Taliban are urged to change their policy if they wish to have access to the international trade and payment system and to their foreign currency reserves deposited with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
This is ironic since it is usually the losers who pay reparations to the winners of a war. Which highlights the fact that the Taliban is unlikely to bow to international pressure, as it would imply that their sacrifices over two decades were not worth it. During this time, many Afghans will perish due to starvation.
Surely there are more tyrannical regimes in the world today that torture, disappear and murder their citizens, but still have gained international acceptability for one reason or another. So why make the Taliban an exception?
There are fundamental security issues involved apart from the humanitarian issue which is why Pakistan and the world at large must engage with the Taliban.
The greatest threat to Pakistan’s security today is that of Pakistani cross-border terrorism and asymmetric warfare. Bombing terrorist hideouts is only part of the answer, as aerial bombardments inevitably lead to non-combatant deaths and additional recruitment to the terrorist cause.
Dialogue and coordination with the Kabul regime must therefore be part of the response. This may well mean official recognition of the Taliban by Pakistan in our national interest. However, since we face an economic and financial maelstrom, our decision makers will be reluctant to do so due to the “beggar cannot choose” syndrome.
Not that Afghanistan will remain isolated for long, no matter what the West thinks of the Taliban today. The electric vehicle (EV) revolution will see to that. After 2030, the majority of new vehicles sold will be electric vehicles. Afghanistan’s vast lithium and copper reserves will mean that multinational companies will be scrambling for trade deals there.
Afghanistan’s development towards middle-income country status over the next two to three decades, however, depends on two major factors: (i) internal political stability; and (ii) avoid the “resource curse” that has impoverished so many mineral and fossil-rich countries.
Pakistan can also benefit significantly from the development of Afghanistan as Gwadar can become a warehouse for our landlocked neighbor. However, for this to happen, we need to ensure that Gwadar has the required infrastructure and that the cross-border insurgency is suppressed.
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