International Relations

One Year after the Taliban Takeover Afghanistan’s Humanitarian Crisis Deepens

US and NATO forces withdrew from Afghanistan one year ago this month igniting a series of complex humanitarian crises. Since seizing control of the government on August 15, 2021, the Taliban has been unable to transition from a revolutionary organization intent upon overthrowing the democratically elected Afghani government to a governing entity that creates and supports the institutions necessary for a functional society. Food insecurity and poverty have plunged much of the nation into famine, and human rights violations, particularly against women and girls, have stripped the nation’s females of the freedoms many had begun to take for granted over the two decades since the inception of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission. In an ALECtv segment filmed at ALEC’s Annual Meeting in 2021, then Ambassador to the US from Afghanistan Roya Rahmani describes the days leading up to the collapse of President Ashraf Ghani’s government. Listen to this Across the States podcast  for a comprehensive discussion of the US/NATO withdrawal featuring political leaders and former foreign policy experts including former UK Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox and Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution.

The statistics paint a devastating picture of the aftermath of the troop withdrawal which has rivaled even the most pessimistic predictions. In January 2022, the United Nations estimated that over 24 million Afghans needed humanitarian aid. This is more than half of the population, with children making up over 50% of those in need, and more than 90% of Afghanis face food insufficiency. Natural disasters, such as a 5.9 magnitude earthquake in June and a severe drought coupled with the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have led to record levels of internal displacement and poverty. Ninety-seven percent of Afghans are predicted to fall into poverty in 2022 – a number that was already at an unsustainable 70% just prior to the Taliban takeover. Contributing to the international food insecurity challenge is Russia’s war against Ukraine which significantly reduced grain exports from both nations as detailed in this ALEC article jolting intricate global grain supply chains. The result is that the people of Afghanistan are literally starving to death.

Afghanistan’s multicausal economic freefall makes addressing the famine even more difficult. Over half the country’s government are currently designated as terrorists by the UN and the United States, a situation that resulted in the instant suspension billions of dollars of foreign aid on which the country has relied for 75% of its public expenditures for 20 years. Many public sector workers have not received a regular paycheck since the fall of the Ghani government leading to the juxtaposition of well-stocked bakers and grocers selling products few can afford to buy and ordinary citizens selling a kidney or a daughter into marriage for money to feed their families. The United States continues to prevent Afghanistan’s government from accessing nearly $7 billion of frozen Afghan assets and has no plans to release these funds anytime soon amid fears that the cash will be used to support terrorist activity. Removing so many females from the workforce alone has cost the Afghan economy $1 billion, an unsurprising consequence since empowering women is one of the surest paths to grow the nation’s economy.

Afghanistan’s economic collapse has been universally catastrophic, however women and girls have been disproportionately impacted with 4.7 million children and pregnant women at risk of acute malnutrition in 2022. This is a cruel and wrenching setback given the strides made by Afghani females since 2001. Despite Taliban assurances that they had left their misogynistic past behind, just one month into their tenure they replaced the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs with a “guidance” ministry charged with “the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice.” In the months since, women’s rights have been upended as draconian clothing laws have been implemented; access to education for girls has been eliminated beyond the sixth grade; and freedom to leave the home without a male guardian has been severely restricted. These measures have been particularly devastating to widows with children who have been rendered unable to provide for their families.  Former ambassador from Afghanistan to the US Adela Raz poignantly described waking up to find her country “gone” at the ALEC Annual Meeting Women’s Caucus Roundtable in Atlanta. An excerpt of her remarks can be found here, and it’s an observation that is indisputable and not rectifiable until the humanitarian crisis abates and we learn the hard lessons of our strategic blunders. Only then can we help guide Afghanistan toward a more inclusive and prosperous future.