The Organization of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Pakistan to discuss Afghanistan made little progress. Photo: facebook

The first international engagement on Afghanistan under the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has ended without a significant outcome for the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the cash-strapped country.

Although the conference did not achieve much in terms of material benefit, however, Pakistan has seized the day to warn the world community again that if they failed to take immediate action, Afghanistan would slip into chaos.

Just as the OIC delegates were locked in deliberations on the Afghan imbroglio in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan disrupted the security fencing the Pakistani military was building along the border between the two countries.

Afghan defense ministry spokesperson Enayatullah Khwarazmi was quoted by the media as saying Taliban forces had stopped the Pakistani military from erecting what he called an “illegal” border fence along with the eastern province of Nangarhar on Sunday.

The Pakistan Army has been fencing the 2,611-kilometer, or 1,622-mile, border with Afghanistan since 2017. They have completed more than 90% of the border fence. Kabul, which is against British-era boundary demarcation that splits families and tribes on both sides of the divide, has been resisting the fencing for a long time.

Pakistan hosted the extraordinary session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers last week, on December 19, in Islamabad. The foreign ministers of the 57-member Organization attended the one-day summit.

Representatives from the United States, Russia, China and the European Union also participated. The Taliban representative and Afghanistan foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi attended the conference, which rose many an eyebrow.

Hamid Karzai, a former Afghan president, asked in a tweet what capacity Muttaqi was attending the conference when none of the OIC member countries has recognized the Taliban government.

Hamid Karzai. Photo: Facebook

No meaningful financial commitment

The OIC, as expected, did not succeed in breaking any ice between the Taliban and the international community that still refuses to recognize their government. Apart from political optics, the conference made no meaningful financial commitment to the impending Afghan disaster.

Saudi Arabia has come up with US$365 million to establish a Humanitarian Trust Fund and Food Security Program. The OIC meeting earlier agreed to create a fund to be managed by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) by March next year to deal with the Afghan crisis. Pakistan had already committed $30 million. 

However, barring Saudi and Pakistani contributions, the conference failed to make any headway in pooling resources for the down and out Afghans. If nothing else, the member countries could have made financial commitments for Afghanistan, but it did not happen.

Shahid Reza, an Islamabad-based security analyst, however, expressed optimism that the conference had achieved maximum targets. “The OIC summit held in Pakistan is an important step forward towards addressing the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan,” Shahid said.

“The representatives of the P5 nations also attended the summit, which further added to the importance of the summit. It is also an important diplomatic victory for Pakistan, as it not only brought together all OIC nations and world powers to discuss Afghanistan, but also had its 6-point agenda regarding Afghanistan approved by the OIC.”

Pakistan had proposed a 6-point agenda before the summit that called for the establishment of an experts’ group to consider the revival of legitimate banking services in the war-torn country. 

It also proposed investment in the education and skill training sectors of Afghanistan and sought enhanced engagement with Kabul to fulfill the international community’s expectations for bringing political and social inclusivity besides ensuring respect for human rights, particularly women’s rights.

Jan Achakzai, a former adviser to Pakistan’s Balochistan government and a political analyst, told Asia Times that the OIC meeting was an attempt to intervene in the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, but it lacked a strategy.

‘Taliban are part of the problem’

“At a time when the US is holding back the Afghan funds and keeps on imposing sanctions on the Taliban, there is no likelihood of a big and meaningful intervention in Afghanistan,” he claimed. 

“The fatigue of donation is there, and yes, the Taliban are part of the problem, being a defective reality, so OIC faces a dilemma to save thousands dying of starvation, but cannot intervene geopolitically to avert a catastrophe in the making. So it was at best an attempt to be seen to be doing something for Afghanistan,” Achakzai said.

In his keynote address, Prime Minister Imran Khan said that such a situation would not be suitable even for the US because “chaos means the inability to fight terrorism.” 

Khan stressed on “delinking” the Taliban government to focusing on an altruistic approach to the 40 million Afghan citizens who, he claimed, were exposed to the biggest “man-made crisis.”

In a veiled reference to the US, Khan said they were in conflict with the Taliban for 20 years, but the main concern now was the people of Afghanistan, and not the Taliban.

Khan took flak from the Afghan diaspora and ethnic Pashtun nationalist forces by asserting that a part of Pashtun civilization looked down on women’s education and even stipends and perks could not attract them to send their daughters to schools. The girls’ education, he said, was antithetical to Afghan values.

Achakzai said it was a very disgraceful comment and smacked of ignorance about Pashtun and Afghan culture. He said Khan had a habit of saying things that have no historic or cultural relevance.

“Khan’s view on Pashtun girl’s education is both simplistic and based on ignorance. Pashtun across Afghanistan are now part of the Afghan society and involved in nation-building activities,” he said.

“Schools in Qandahar and Nangarhar are well attended by Pashtun girls. Even in Khost, there are thousands of Pashtun girls studying at the university level. Khan’s comments are knave and he should refrain from giving such a wild comment that could enrage Pashtun communities on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. It is like demonizing a community that must be condemned,” he added.

Imran Khan copped some flak for his comments. Photo: WikiCommons

Khan under fire for comments

Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai lambasted Khan in a tweet for his remarks at the OIC session and termed it an attempt to sow discord among Afghans and an insult to the Afghan people.         

Nobel laureate and women’s rights activist Malala Yousafzai reacted strongly to recent statements by Khan in which he claimed the ethnic Pashtun group keeps women away from education as part of its culture.

“I nearly lost my life fighting against Taliban’s ban on girls’ education. Thousands of Pashtun activists and notables lost their lives when they raised their voices against the Taliban’s horrors and millions became refugees. We represent Pashtuns – not the Taliban,” Yousafzai said on Twitter.

Shahid Raza, an Islamabad-based security analyst, told Asia Times that Khan’s comments on cultural impediments to girls’ education have been taken out of context.

“Khan has just highlighted the importance of girls’ education in Afghanistan and the challenges faced by the female education sector in the country. Most importantly he opposed imposing any foreign model on Afghan culture, as it was unlikely to be sustainable,” he added.