Decryption | The dilemma: help, without recognizing the Taliban

To avoid seeing starving Afghan children on the news and front pages, the international community has no choice: it must speak with the Taliban.

For François Audet, director of the Canadian Observatory on Crises and Humanitarian Action at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM), this is obvious. “The Taliban are in power, they control the airports, the borders; if we want to generate humanitarian aid, we will have no choice but to deal with them. ”

The other possibility, underlines François Audet, is to see the country sink into a serious humanitarian crisis. “Dialogue with the Taliban regime is inevitable and it is preferable to isolation,” adds Vanda Felbab-Brown, a researcher at the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Two months after the Taliban came to power, the Afghans are running out of steam. Washington froze the currency reserves of the Afghan Central Bank, much of it deposited in the United States. This forced the Afghan banks to close their doors.

Consequence: Afghans no longer have access to their savings while civil servants are deprived of wages.

Humanitarian aid, which financed 75% of public spending in Afghanistan, has stopped flowing. The World Bank has frozen its support, equivalent to 750 million per year, to the Afghan health system.

Private transfers from abroad, which represent nearly C $ 1 billion per year, have also been put on hold. While money is scarce, prices are skyrocketing. And the alarm signals are multiplying.

On the brink of collapse

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse. Already, one in three Afghans no longer knows what to eat for their next meal. Famine threatens 1 million children who, without massive food aid, risk dying, warned Henrietta Fore, CEO of UNICEF.

It is in this context of extreme urgency that the European Union released, on Tuesday, 1.4 billion for Afghanistan, while the G20 countries, gathered in a virtual conference, agreed to discuss with the Taliban to ensure the distribution of this aid – without acknowledging their government.

“It is very difficult to imagine how to help the Afghan people without including the Taliban, but that does not mean to recognize them”, said the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who assumes the rotating presidency of the G20, quoted by several. international media.

Dilemma

Include without acknowledging: Western states walk a thin line. The position is delicate, because that implies “that their enemies of yesterday become their direct interlocutors”, underlines François Audet.

On the other hand, humanitarian organizations are already used to negotiating with armed groups, regardless of the ideology they defend. Including in Afghanistan.

Before taking control of the capital, the Taliban already controlled half of the territory of Afghanistan, recalls the researcher. “UN organizations such as the World Food Program, the Red Cross or even Médecins sans frontières have always had contact with the hierarchy of armed groups,” notes François Audet. But don’t the Taliban risk diverting some of the humanitarian aid?

The G20’s position is firm: all humanitarian aid will be channeled through international organizations. But this principle risks clashing with reality, believes Vanda Felbab-Brown.

Subject to international sanctions that block the assets of the Afghan state, the Taliban could be tempted to levy a tax on humanitarian aid, and thus secure income.

Currently, their partly criminal business activities allow them to generate, at best, $ 2 billion per year, says Vanda Felbab-Brown. “It’s enough to allow the Taliban to survive, but not enough to run the country. “

The international community is a bit trapped. By imposing sanctions on the Taliban, it blocks a possible economic recovery and creates a situation where the need for humanitarian aid can only continue. But if the sanctions are lifted, it will be the start of recognition of the Taliban – and no country has so far shown interest in moving in that direction.

Humanitarian aid released on Tuesday will pay for “peanut butter and penicillin,” but not help the economy and pay government workers, says Vanda Felbab-Brown. “It’s a band-aid put on a lot of bleeding wounds. ”

While humanitarian aid is not associated with specific demands on the Taliban regime, the international community could kill two birds with one stone and negotiate the lifting of sanctions piecemeal by linking them to demands. very specific about human rights, believes Vanda Felbab-Brown.

In any case, that would be a way of trying to resolve the Afghan dilemma – no state seems to wish to move in this direction at the moment.

Turn

With the withdrawal of Western countries from other conflict zones, particularly in the Sahel countries, where states have lost control of large swathes of territory, the question of negotiations with armed groups also arises outside the country. ‘Afghanistan. In Mali, for example, and even in the Democratic Republic of Congo, notes François Audet.

It is a major shift in the field of international aid. “Humanitarian workers who used to negotiate with elected municipal officials, senior officials or village elders find themselves facing guys with Kalashnikovs. They don’t really have a choice to negotiate with them.

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