OIC Meeting in Islamabad
The Muslim World shows unity to address
growing crisis in Afghanistan
On December 19, 2021, Pakistan hosted an extraordinary session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the Parliament House in Islamabad, with an aim to seek humanitarian aid and economic assistance for Afghanistan. The focus of this Conference was the situation in Afghanistan – and to be more specific – the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Before the start of the meeting, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that the OIC Extraordinary session would prove to be a stepping stone in finding solutions to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and this was also an opportunity for world capitals to know about ground realities from Taliban representatives. He added that the world was now coming to the same point that Pakistan had maintained for a long time. He warned that a humanitarian crisis and economic collapse of the country would affect the entire world, stressing that Europe too would witness an influx of refugees. “In case of such a crisis, the country’s neighbours, including Pakistan, and European Union states, would have to prepare for another influx of refugees,” he said.
The backdrop of this Conference was the serious humanitarian situation in Afghanistan where the suspension of development and other foreign assistance, funding by IFIs and freezing of Afghan assets abroad have exacerbated the situation. There is a clear danger of economic collapse and millions are in danger of starvation.
According to UN estimates, more than half of Afghanistan’s population – around 22.8 million Afghans – face crisis levels of hunger. The situation is getting worse by the day, especially with winter setting in.
World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that 3.2 million children are at risk of acute malnutrition. According to UNHCR, 665,000 people have been newly displaced within Afghanistan between January and September 2021, and they are at risk of acute malnutrition.
According to UNHCR, 665,000 people have been newly displaced within Afghanistan between January and September 2021 — in addition to the 2.9 million people already internally displaced.
According to UNDP, 97 % of Afghans could fall below the poverty line unless the crisis is addressed.
Besides the foreign ministers from the OIC member states and observers, participants included special invitees from the United Nations system, international financial institutions and some non-member states including the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan. Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and special representatives on Afghanistan from the United States, Russia, China and European Union also attended the event.
The day-long conference was held at the Parliament House. It was rare for such events to be held in the main halls of the National Assembly, which is particularly reserved for elected members of the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament (Majlis-e-Shoora).
The purpose of the OIC meeting was to address the looming humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and turn the world’s attention to the people of the war-ravaged country, who are at severe risk of starvation and disease. “Besides expressing solidarity with the Afghan people, the [meeting aimed] to explore avenues for containing and reversing the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, especially in terms of food shortages, displacement of people and a potential economic collapse,” said the Foreign Office.
The meeting also sought the support of the international community to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and economic collapse of Afghanistan. The extraordinary meeting of OIC Council of Foreign Ministers had great significance for Afghanistan as the people were facing famine, hunger and lawlessness after withdrawal of the United States.
Some of the key objectives of the Extraordinary Session of the OIC were:
a. To express solidarity of the Muslim Ummah with the people of Afghanistan
b. To consider practical arrangements and concrete steps to help address the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people, especially in terms of food shortages, displacement of people, and potential economic collapse.
c. To galvanize international support for the provision of urgent and sustained humanitarian assistance. To this end, the possibility of a dedicated ‘special purpose vehicle’ under the aegis of the OIC is under consideration.
The single most important takeaway from the OIC summit was that at least some modicum of care for the people of Afghanistan was prominent. It goes to Islamabad’s credit, then, that it moblised the 57-member bloc in such a way that the international community will now be forced to take note and pressure Washington into loosening its chokehold on Kabul’s finances. Not only should, and most likely will, more voices call for an end to the stiff sanctions, but surely everybody will press for the release of approximately $10 billion of the Afghan central bank’s money frozen in foreign banks.
While it is good to reaffirm Pakistan’s commitment to further strengthening ties with other Muslim countries, there are certain points that need highlighting. Pakistan’s decision to host the Extraordinary Session of the OIC for Afghanistan was timely, keeping in view the extremely hard conditions the people of Afghanistan are going through. To help financially strained Afghanistan, full cooperation among the OIC members is the need of the hour. We may also hope that the outcomes of the OIC conference would be instrumental in mobilising the international community to support the people of Afghanistan on humanitarian grounds. The crises confronting Afghanistan are not only financial; they have multiple dimensions – from providing education and food security to health facilities and livelihood opportunities. The prime minister’s warning to the global community could not be clearer that Afghanistan could potentially become the biggest “man-made crisis in the world” if the world does not act now. Though in addition to the OIC members, delegates from China, European Union, Russia, and the United States participated in the meeting, there was no concrete announcement for any major aid to Afghanistan.
It is an ethical and moral duty of the world – and more so of the Muslim world – to ‘delink’ the Taliban government from the 40 million Afghan citizens, as the PM put it. There can be no two opinions about how significant it is now to take immediate action. This lack of commitment from the international community is also a result of the Taliban’s reluctance to fulfil their commitments about forming an inclusive government and ensuring women’s rights. While some way can, and should, definitely be found to provide aid to the people of Afghanistan, we must emphasise that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s assertion that the idea of human rights is different in every society does not carry much weight and is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that most of the countries have committed to since 1948. Cultures can vary across urban and rural areas, across class divisions, ethnicities, but respect for fundamental and human rights is imperative. It is a disservice to Pashtun culture if it is lumped together with the regressive measures that the Taliban are wont to impose. Being sensitive to cultural norms does not translate into condoning violations of basic rights. At the moment, though, all eyes are on the countries around the globe – as Afghans battle a crippling winter.