Barely eight decades ago, while it was fighting the Nazis’ fascism, the British government under Winston Churchill was simultaneously orchestrating and engineering one of the worst famines in human history. As a result of Britain’s imperial policies, and with the excuse of wartime in 1943, around 3 million natives in the Bengal region of eastern India died from starvation and social unrest.
Almost eight decades later, the West’s policy – which can be interpreted as neo-imperialist – is threatening to wreak similar havoc in Afghanistan.
Since the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan and, months later, the formal establishment of its government and the Islamic Emirate, much of the world still has not come to terms with the new reality.
While Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan – all countries which the West criticises as abusers of human rights, and which are not known to be bastions of freedom – have moved closer to recognition of the new Afghan government, Western nations have decided to punish the Taliban.
And what better way to punish a group than by punishing the people it governs? Lack of recognition, threatening condemnation, even a furthering of sanctions were all not harsh enough of a punishment. Instead, the entire country had to suffer, with the Afghan money and $10 billion in funds and assets abroad being frozen by the United States and European nations.
In the Economist‘s recent magazine issue for the beginning of December, it alleged that the Taliban’s “policy of making it hard for women to work makes the country poorer. Stopping girls from going to school will, in the long-run, have an even worse economic effect.”
The mass poverty suffered by at least half of the country, the starvation and lack of resources and this year’s harsh winter which the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has predicted will impact the food security of 22.8 million Afghans are, according to the magazine, all due to the allegedly insufficient amount of women working and studying in the country.
Apart from the fact that the group’s administration has not banned women from working and has allowed the resumption of girls’ education in the country – albeit, with some discouragement with regards to higher education and some limitations – the magazine’s view reflects much of the mainstream media’s broader focus on the Taliban’s actions and policies themselves, rather than Afghanistan’s plight being due to the freezing of its assets.
Outlets neglect to focus on the responsibility of the international community, nor do they acknowledge the fact that the previous Afghan government siphoned billions of dollars off from international aid. Theft, corruption, poor governance and divisive policies under that government never resulted in such actions by the West and the international community.
There is also the fact that the progression of women’s’ rights in Afghanistan throughout the previous 20 years largely existed only on paper, with official statistics showing that 63 per cent of Afghan women were illiterate and girls made up 85 per cent of those not in education. The primary reason was most commonly claimed to be “endemic corruption.”
Forcing marriage onto women was also not banned under the previous government, but was only ruled as illegal under the Taliban earlier this month. While the group and its administration still has much to improve and work on, the situation of women under the toppled former Afghan government was far from perfect.
On Saturday 11 December, months after the money was frozen and the economic siege was implemented, the World Bank finally decided – out of its great kindness – to release some of the money. With $280 million having been released, though, that accounts for only a fraction of the frozen assets at 2.8 per cent.
Some nations have also shown some sympathy by sending millions in aid to Afghanistan in order to avoid the collapse of its medical and healthcare sector. But even those who do not support the Taliban or are not affiliated with it have admitted that such meagre sums in comparison to the frozen assets are barely enough to sustain less than a few million Afghans.
By refusing to release the foreign assets and funds, the West, and the “international community” under its influence, are holding Afghanistan hostage and blackmailing its new government by swinging the rod of supposed moral superiority.
While women’s’ rights should always be a concern, especially within the broader concept of human rights and freedoms, the West is using it as a weapon against the Taliban and sending it a message: the Afghan population can be directly targeted and starved into submission or civil unrest, and the new government will have no true fiscal control, freedom or influence under the global economic system.
It is a message that the likes of Syria, Iran, Venezuela and others have gotten used to. The difference is, though, that the new Afghan government had hardly even gotten a chance to prove that it is deserving of such treatment. If it has, then the starvation of the country’s population is still far from just.
Policymakers and human rights activists, if they truly do prioritise women’s’ rights, also seem to not realise that restricting Afghanistan’s assets and blockading its economy directly and instantaneously impacts the women of the country.
As many employers have been rendered unable to even pay their employees, that will only result in less economic freedom for women and their decreased likelihood of receiving wages and payments – whether from work or from the breadwinners of their households.
By expecting the Taliban to achieve in months what the former Afghan government could not achieve in 20 years in power, the West is intentionally setting unrealistic expectations and goals. As a result, the West seems to happily let average Afghans starve in order to pursue vague political gains and to hold the new Afghan government hostage.
If Afghanistan’s funds continue to be frozen and are not released, it is estimated that more people would die from the winter and famine than died in the entirety of the two-decades-long war. If that happens, the West and the “international community” would be engineering and orchestrating a new famine reminiscent of a colonial past.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.