Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

While Afghanistan continues to face a devastating economic and humanitarian crisis, there is one global actor that can help the country pull through: the United Nations. While its member states continue to debate whether they should recognize the Taliban’s government, the UN can still play an important role in supporting the Afghan people. In fact, as an international institution, it often takes on the responsibilities that no single nation wants to bear.

Despite being excluded from the US-Taliban talks and the intra-Afghan peace process, the UN is now seen as the primary path to humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. If individual states overwhelm and undermine the UN by preventing the institution from liaising with the Taliban, blatant weaknesses in the UN system will inevitably come to the surface. While the world waits for the Taliban to prove that it has changed, the UN must also change its approach and will do well to consider the following messages.

First, it is important to recognize that today there is just as much need for a political settlement in Afghanistan as there was before the Taliban took over Kabul. Rather than writing off the Afghan peace process as dead in the water, it is more constructive to see it as a multi-year, adaptable and ongoing process of bringing all sides together to build bridges and a common understanding of the future. of Afghanistan.

Given this need to achieve lasting peace in Afghanistan, the UN must ensure that humanitarian and development responses support the peace process rather than undermine it. Thus, the humanitarian development peace nexus provides a powerful framework for promoting more integrated approaches that break down the traditional silos of the international aid system to respond to the Afghan crisis.

Second, the UN can lead the way in promoting a development approach to humanitarian aid. The issue of food security is critical as Afghanistan is already experiencing severe food shortages and could face widespread famine. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a severe drought has affected millions of farmers in Afghanistan this summer.

To prevent a further deterioration in the country’s food security crisis, there is a need for urgent action. Yet humanitarian business-as-usual models of importing pre-packaged food are a lost opportunity to support agricultural survival and early economic recovery. In addition to aid distribution points, there is a need for aid collection points across the country to collect food where it is available.

In the coming months, the UN can support smallholder farmers by procuring public food, supplementing food pipelines and facilitating food transport, thus contributing to agricultural resilience and transformation in Afghanistan.

Third, the provision of scale humanitarian needs will require courageous and innovative forms of financing to address the multidimensional crisis and challenging operating environment in Afghanistan without establishing dependency. In October, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) announced the creation of a People’s Economy Fund that would provide access to cash for vulnerable Afghans and micro-enterprises that could bridge livelihood support and macroeconomic stabilization. While this is a welcome step, there is a need for resource mobilization on a much larger scale.

The UN can also play a crucial role in convening regional states to resolve urgent issues that hinder a more effective humanitarian response. As a country surrounded country, Afghanistan must rely on neighboring cooperation for aid supplies. Pakistan has long been a natural choice for relief organizations to procure relief supplies. Although the route is essential, it is risky to be so heavily dependent on one border. The UN can help diversify aid channels, including through Uzbekistan and Iran.

Fourth, there is an urgent need to protect 20 years of investment in state and social capabilities in Afghanistan. This means that the country needs help as a life-saving aid. Thus, it is essential that foreign aid does not bypass existing structures, especially in the education and health sectors, which are critical to socio-economic stability and employ a large number of women.

In mid-October, Deputy US Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo reiterated that he did not envisage any conditions under which the Taliban could gain access to its frozen assets. Unstable cash flow and low reserves, coupled with a limited ability to receive aid and funding, will create an opportunity for “terrorist” groups to manipulate aggrieved or impoverished people. The UN can play a critical role in acting as a good faith monitor in a phased approach to the depletion of Afghan assets to help pay much-needed salaries in health and education and the deteriorating socio-economic situation of the majority of Afghans.

Fifth, given the lack of trust between the Taliban and the international community, the UN is best placed to mediate a step-by-step roadmap for strengthening humanitarian and development cooperation. The UN has led by example with UNICEF coordinating access to education with the Taliban and has plans to fund Afghan teachers directly. Both UNICEF and the World Health Organization also launched polio vaccination campaigns with the Taliban’s support: in October, the Taliban allowed a national UN-led polio vaccination campaign to continue, saying they were committed to allowing women to front lines to engage workers.

In a promising move towards more full-fledged development cooperation, Deputy Prime Minister Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar recently met with Achim Steiner, the director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in Doha where they discussed Afghanistan’s current economic crisis.

In short, as UN agencies are already coordinating humanitarian projects with the Taliban, they are well positioned to draw up a mutual agreement on the steps needed to establish a functional partnership between the Afghan government and the international community. Given the important role that Qatar has played as an intermediary for the Taliban and the international community, it is only logical that it will also play a key role in facilitating this process.

Thus, there is a need for a clear framework with measurable expectations and milestones that will unleash reciprocal actions. On the Taliban side, this could include providing secure access, ensuring that aid is not taken away, guaranteeing the rights of women, and forming a truly inclusive government that represents all Afghans. On the part of the international community, reciprocal steps can be taken from the resumption of development aid, or the lifting of sanctions, to the eventual full recognition of the Afghan government.

Finally, for this to happen and for a fostering trade relationship to emerge between the Taliban and the UN, political will and the right leadership will be required to represent the UN. While the Taliban’s perception of the UN is colored by the sanctions they have imposed on the group, it was interesting in a recent meeting to take note of the Taliban leaders’ loving reference to the days of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN Special Representative for Afghanistan. Despite their disagreement with UN policy then, they clearly identified better with him as a Muslim who understood their faith and culture and showed understanding towards their views without compromising core humanitarian principles.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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