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OIC summit manifests Pakistan’s foreign policy options


Dec 27, 2021
The writer is an
 economist, anchor,
 analyst and the
 President of all
  Pakistan Private
 Schools’ Federation

A one-day summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Pakistan warned that the whole region would suffer in case of an economic collapse of Afghanistan. The objective of arranging the conference was to draw international attention to the humanitarian crisis that is neither in the interest of Afghanistan nor the world at large and can only be averted through collective efforts. The United Nations estimates 22.8 million people, more than half of Afghanistan’s population, are experiencing high levels of acute food shortages stemming from years of war, a severe drought, and high levels of poverty. The World Health Organization and U.N. agencies have warned of the humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan and its 38 million people. Hospitals are desperately short of medicines, up to 95% of all households face food shortages, the poverty level is soaring toward 90%, and the afghani, the national currency is in free fall. To abandon Afghanistan at this stage would be a historic mistake. The instability could give way to renewed conflict, it could trigger an exodus of refugees to neighboring countries and the West as well.

The OIC-led conference was the biggest international gathering on Afghanistan since the Taliban took over the country in mid-August on the heels of a U.S.-led foreign troop exit after 20 years. Envoys from 57 Islamic nations as well as observer delegations participated in the session. The conference was attended by 20 foreign ministers, 10 deputy foreign ministers, and 70 delegates with the special representatives on Afghanistan of major powers, including China, the US, and Russia. US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West, who was attending the meeting, has expressed his intention to work with humanitarian groups in the country and to find mechanisms to deliver aid. The gathering also included the UN undersecretary-general on humanitarian affairs as well as the president of the Islamic Development Bank. Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi was also in attendance.

The political isolation of Afghanistan is not beneficial for anyone, therefore it is imperative that all support the prevailing stability and back it both politically and economically.

However, the global community has not yet recognized the Taliban government. US and European countries have imposed stringent economic sanctions on the Taliban and blocked the access to billions of dollars in Afghan foreign assets as well as development assistance. The sanctions raised prospects of an economic collapse and worsened the humanitarian emergency. The lack of diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government in Kabul has undermined the delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Pakistan has already dispatched humanitarian assistance, including food and medicine to Afghanistan, also pledging to send 50,000 tons of wheat. Islamabad has allowed rival India to send 50,000 tons of wheat in humanitarian assistance to neighboring Afghanistan through Pakistani territory. Speakers also called for a quick opening of the country’s banking system and collectively, with the United Nations and international banking institutions, assistance to Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan directed his remarks to the US, urging Washington to drop preconditions to releasing desperately needed funds and restarting Afghanistan’s banking systems. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the world needed to separate the Taliban from the ordinary 40 million Afghan citizens. He also urged caution in linking recognition of the new government to Western ideals of human rights. IK also warned that without immediate aid, it would have horrendous consequences, not just in Afghan lives lost to starvation and disease, but would most certainly result in a mass exodus of Afghans. Chaos would spread, he predicted, and allow terrorism and the drug trade to flourish. The acting Afghan foreign minister claimed the Taliban government has restored peace and security and done much to address demands for a more inclusive government with respect for human rights, including the rights of women.

An OIC resolution released after the meeting said the Islamic Development Bank would lead the effort to free up assistance by the first quarter of next year. It also urged Afghanistan’s rulers to abide by obligations under international human rights covenants, especially with regards to the rights of women, children, youth, the elderly, and people with special needs. The OIC also resolved to arrange for a team of international Muslim scholars to engage with the Taliban on issues such as, but not limited to, tolerance and moderation in Islam, equal access to education, and women’s rights in Islam. The 31-point OIC resolution was short on specifics and gave no figure for financial assistance. There are many who want to donate but do not want to donate directly, they want some mechanism that they are comfortable with. This mechanism has been devised, and pledges will now be made. Obviously, they are aware of the importance of time.

Though the summit was based on the single-point agenda of support for the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, organizing the 17th extraordinary summit in Islamabad is a big foreign policy win for Pakistan. It is a moral and political victory of Pakistan in a highly nationalized global environment. Pakistan’s foreign policy has always been shaped by external influences, particularly the situation on its eastern and western borders. The long-drawn Russia-Afghan war and the disintegration of the USSR had a lasting impact on the internal and external security situation of Pakistan. When the Russian war against Afghanistan ended, resulting in the disintegration of the USSR, the security dynamics had changed for Pakistan. Four million Afghan refugees and the Kalashnikov and drug culture were the rewards for Pakistan in lieu of the support Pakistan extended to the US’ fight against Russia. The biggest success of this extraordinary summit is Pakistan’s effort to present to the world that the 40 million Afghans who are facing a human-made crisis are not an extension of the Taliban. They are normal citizens of Afghanistan and also victims of the long-drawn war which the US waged twenty years ago. The Afghan people must be helped in kind and the Taliban government must be engaged politically to pull Afghanistan out of the crisis.

Hosting member countries of the OIC gathering for the single agenda of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is itself a success for Pakistan. It may not be a political summit, yet it signifies everything. The message was loud and clear to the US and the world community that US policies of punishing nations at will are no more acceptable. The summit also signifies the importance of the region and the priority the world attaches to Afghanistan and Pakistan. It also exhibits Pakistan’s desire that the world must come forward to share the burden of the Afghan crisis. It also reflects that KSA, which is the leader of the OIC, is also looking for out-of-the-box solutions in terms of its relations with the world. The summit testifies that the US will not be allowed to play with the lives of millions of Afghans. Global affairs demand equal attention from the superpower and global institutions. The OIC summit is a positive step towards resolving the regional security issue and a leap forward to help the millions of Afghans facing severe food, medicine, and water shortage and harsh weather conditions. The summit also manifests Pakistan’s open foreign policy options in the existing environment.

It will be important to see whether the OIC, which is the second-largest group of nations after the United Nations, will be able to come up with a tangible solution to help Afghanistan in its crisis. All must acknowledge that the political isolation of Afghanistan is not beneficial for anyone, therefore it is imperative that all support the prevailing stability and back it both politically and economically.

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