Afghans are in Deep Trouble


On Wednesday January 31,2001, five hundred and four Afghan old men, women and children died from hypothermia ie extreme cold in the six make shift camps around Herat. Most of these death have occurred at Mashlak, the biggest but the worst organized camp located in a windswept plain near Herat. Children of recently arrived Afghan refugees have also been dying from severe cold in Jallozai camp near Pabbi and at the new Shamshatto camp. The horror of mass fatalities among internally displaced Afghan refugees , from the cold wave with temperatures diving to minus 25 centigrade should have evoked global concern. The Islamic Ummah should have helped to save one million fellow Muslims wandering around without food and shelter, and dying from hunger and cold. Pakistan is the only country which has expressed grave concern on the plight of the Afghan refugees. General Pervez Musharraf has time and again appealed to the world community to help the Afghans in their hour of need. He has used every available platform to espouse the cause of the people of Afghanistan. At the recently held D-8 Summit in Cairo, the Chief Executive Geneeral Pervez Musharraf said that,” the unstable Afghan situation is inded a matter of concern for us. A humanitarian disaster is impending in Afghanistan. The on-going strife, unprecedented drought as well as additional UN sanctions have compounded the hardships of the Afghan people and has led to a large influx of refugees into Pakistan. The situation demands that the international community in general and the Islamic countries more specifically come forward with increased humanitarian assistance to avert the looming humanitarian disaster. Afghanistan cries for peace. But peace can only be achieved through engagement and recognition of the ground realities. The Taliban should be engaged rather than isolated. It is hoped that the global community and especially the Islamic Ummah realizes its responsibility towards the Afghan people who are the victims of the civil war the long drought, and the bitter cold. NWFP Governor Iftikhar Hussian has also expressd serious concern over the sluggish concern of the world community and the donor agencies towards the humanitarian issue of Afghan refugees displaced due to continued infighting ,severe drought and shortage of food in Afghanistan. He has been rightly emphatic that Pakistan was no more in a position to afford the extra burden of the displaced Afghans, and that the world community, and the donor agencies should provide aid to the displaced Afghan population in Afghanistan itself.

Pakistan did send five thousand tons of wheat, five thousand tons of rice, five thousand tents and fifty thousand quilts and blankets for the eighty thousand destitute Afghans in the Herat camps. Had this aid been despatched three monts earlier, thousands of Afghan men, women and children who have perished would have survived. But rest of the Islamic Ummah, especially the oil rich Arab brothers have seent nothing, ie no aid and no help. We in Pakistan gloat over our generosity towards the Afghan refugees who have been here since over two decades. But the ideals of Islam and and the compassion it teaches towards fellow human beings demands that we do not trumpet our generosity. Frankly we should have embarked on concrete steps to help out the starving Afghan men, women and children, before they had started dying from hunger and cold. It is a matter of regret that none of the fifty two Islamic states or the OIC has expressed concern or offered help in the hour of dire need of helpless Afghans. The government of Pakistan and its people are Afghanistan’s best friends. We have large hearts and limited resources. The need is to organize donations in cash and kind from every corner of Pakistan by media appeals and publicity. The Kashmir problem has been internationalized by the Pakistani media. The humanitrian crisis in Afghanistan also needs urgent attention of the Pakistani media. Pakistan welcomed three and a half million refugees from Afghanistan at the height of the Soviet imposed war on Afghanistan. Million and a half of them are still in the NWFP and Balochistan. Two hundered thousand destitute Afghan refugees have arrived at and transitted through the Jallozai camp since September 2000.

It is most unfortunate that there is no end to the misery of the Afghan people. Rahimullah Yusufzai in his article “Living a Nightmare”, rightly states that,” Twenty three years after Afghanistan was destabilized by communist revolution its people continue to suffer both at home and abroad. That humanity can reach such depths of misery and despair is evident inside Afghanistan at six camps of internally displaced persons(IDP’s) in Herat as well as in the makeshift Jallozai camp near Peshawar. At both places uprooted families survive on day to day basis in the hope of attracting God’s mercy and the kindness of the international community.” The United States of America whom the Taliban decry as their enemy has shown it concern and has flown in food, tents and quilts, but these are too little and late. Norway has also sent some supplies. Germany and the European Union have provided substantial amounts to the UNHCR project,”Humanitarian Assistance to Refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran.” The Federal Republic of Germany has promised to contribute Rs twenty million towards humanitarian relief operation in Afghanistan. This contribution will be made through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugeees (UNHRC). This contribution is part of a much wider German support to thte Afghan people comprising food aid, mine clearing, medical help and education programmes. Guring the year 2000 German aid to Afghanistan amounted to DM 15 million ie Rs four hundered million. Germany gave similar magnitude of aid to European Union aid programmes for the Afghan people. Generally, the aid was in the form of distribution of blankets, plastic sheets, and shelter kits. It is not clear as to where was this massive aid spent and who has benefitted from it. Norway has also been helping out in one form or another. The donor agencies must realize that the suffering Afghans need their help now, otherwise it will be too late. Top priorrity needs to be given to the distribution of food aid and medical help.

The other sad aspect of this unfortunate situaion is that the Taliban administration in Kabul, Qandhar and in the provinces have done little to save their own citizens from dying of cold and hunger. In the affected region of western and central Afghanistan provinces of Badghis, Ghor, Bamiyan, Urozgan, and Farah, they did nothing when the situation there was becoming desperate. Hundereds of thousands of people from these provinces have migrated to die in the makeshift camps. It is an extremely poor reflection on the performance of the Taliban regime that it has done next to nothing while nearlly one million of its citizens were facing death from bitter cold and starvation. Taliban officials blame the UN and the USA for the mass fatalities and exodus of about one million people out of villages. They allege that sanctions are the cause of most of the difficulties that the Afghan people are faced with today. The fact is that drought, war, cold, insecurity, and poor governance are the cause. While the UN-US sanctions have added to their plight, the Taliban regime should have geared up its own resources and appealed to Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to help avert the disaster. Besides the Talibans frequently have made it difficult for the donor agencies to work effectively inside Afghanistan. Taliban officials frrequently misbehave with the UN and donor workers and do not allow help to reach the affected people.

On January 21st the UN Co-ordinator for Afghanistan reported that besides the hundereds of deaths from severe cold in the six displacement camps in Herat, three hunderd thousand (300000) displaced Afghan refugees were at great risk in Western Afghanistan. After loosing their crops from extreme drought afflicting western Afghanistan, the displaced people are faced with hazards like lack of food, inadequate shelter and miserable living conditions in the six refugee camps in Herat. The death of over fifteen hundered Afghan men, women and children could have been averted by administrative measures. The Herat administrtion distributed food for two days in the Herat camps, but no long term steps have were taken for the supply of food, eatables, beddings and tents to the starving millions. The Taliban regime has failed to chalk out a proper strategy for the provision of succour and shelter to nearly one million Afghan men, women and chlildren who are shelterless.

The UN Coordinator said that the makeshift camps have inadequate roof shelters, and the thin plastic is no protection against rain and heavy snow. Arrangements for food, water, tents, blankets, quilts, medicines, doctors and nurses remain inadequate. The Taliban do not allow male doctors to treat females including child girls, with the result that female mortality in the camps within Afghan is very high. Such retarded thinking is inhuman and is totally anti-Islamic. Absence of heating, firewood, kerosene are also the cause of heavy casualities from extreme cold. They should have prepared an emergency plan to deal with the situation, and should have made earnest requests to the governments of all the Muslims countries through the OIC. All they have done is to blame the UN and the US. While the United Nations Organization and America are to be blamed for the vengeful sanctions against Afghanistan, which are hurting the common people more than the rulers, the Taliban Administration must clarify its lethargy and callous inaction regarding the plight of its own citizens. The Taliban officials pretend as if the one million wandering, homeless, hungry and sick citizens within Afghanistan are none of their concern. And that they are the concern of the United Nations, the United States of America, Pakistan and the global community. They think that they need to do nothing, and that Pakistan should reopen the borders to let in half a million more Afghans. Off-course Pakistan should not ditch the million starving, sick and dying Afghans. Pakistan as the closest neighbour and a country which has deep affection and respect for the Afghans must do every thing that it can to avert the current predicament of the Afghans. While it supports the Talibans, Islamabad must help the Taliban regime to develop management and administrative skills for better and just governance. Taliban are introvert and inward looking and behave like know all’s. They have to be told to shun arrogance and prejudice towards others. The stubborn and self-righteous attitude of the Taliban rulers is the major cause of Afghanistan’s isolation and deprivation. Unless the Taliban rulers wake up to their responsibilities and become answerable to their people, the plight and misery in that country is unlikely to diminish.