Liberation notes with alarm and growing concern the news of the earthquake in south-eastern Afghanistan and its devastating after-effects for the already beleaguered population there.
According to reports, the 5.9 magnitude earthquake hit at around 01:30 local time on Wednesday 22 June and badly shook four districts of Paktika province in the far south-east of Afghanistan, near to the city of Khost and the country’s frontier with Pakistan. As the quake struck in the middle of the night, many people were buried under the rubble of their traditionally built dwellings which simply could not withstand its force.
Those emergency and relief efforts already underway have been severely hampered by the epicentre’s remote location and the poor state of the roads not completely taken out by the huge landslides that ensued after the earthquake. On the evening of23 June, the Taliban authorities stated that the initial search and rescue mission was over – with at least 1,000 dead and 1,500 injured and those numbers set to significantly rise. Meanwhile, we bear witness to the heart-breaking pictures of desperate people searching for survivors in the rubble with no more than their bare hands.
The earthquake is the latest disaster to befall Afghanistan and its people – a population left alone by the international community to endure growing political violence, repression, and misrule; abject poverty; famine; and disease… All over the ten months since the almost 20-year-long occupation of the country was stealthily but suddenly brought to a close and power handed over to the Taliban.
The already clearly parlous state of Afghanistan’s critical infrastructure in the face of these challenges, and before yesterday’s earthquake had even struck, should serve to dispel any remaining notion that the US-led NATO occupation was somehow for the good of Afghanistan or else concerned with improving the lot of the Afghan people – who still languish amongst the most destitute in the world today. An occupation that originally began as a punitive measure, with little real measure (if any) of the people or society under its control, with no coherent vision of what it hoped to bring about in the longer term, manifestly achieved scarcely little over two decades other than continual bloodshed and barely contained instability – particularly away from Kabul and the larger cities.
The calculated and stage-managed transition of power over to the Taliban last summer, over the heads of Afghanistan’s long-suffering people, allowed the US and its partners to leave a chaotic and destabilising void in the heart of Asia (a parting ‘gift’ to their adversaries in the region) as well as to effectively wash their hands of any genuine concern for the plight of the people or building democracy there. The US and its NATO allies essentially cut and ran, leaving the people of Afghanistan to their fate – a fate, one can legitimately argue, they had a major part in bringing about in the first place.
With the withdrawal of the US-led occupation forces and the illegitimate accession to power of the Taliban last August, vitally needed international financial aid has quickly dried up and the manifold aid and relief agencies once on the ground in Afghanistan have all but disappeared – making a critical situation even worse. The international community has seemingly either conveniently forgotten or else absolved itself of its responsibilities to the people of Afghanistan over the last ten months. Furthermore, most governments have steadfastly avoided (and continue to do so) any direct dealings with the illegitimate Taliban authorities, making co-ordination of any emergency response or relief effort that much harder. Thus far, responses to humanitarian appeals for Afghanistan in the wake of the earthquake have generally been poor. Another complication, if any were needed, is the effect of sanctions on Afghanistan (imposed for the Taliban’s terrorist activities) on any relief effort. Earlier on Thursday (23 June), in a press briefing by telephone, Rina Amiri – the US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights – stated that it was their assessment that sanctions would not impact earthquake-related aid to the country, but that it was still too early to reach a definite conclusion in this respect.
Owing to the continuing tense relationship between the Taliban and the international community, the Taliban has omitted to make a formal request for assistance from the United Nations. However, officials at several UN agencies have stated that the Taliban has assured them of full access to the devastated area.
The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also expressed his condolences to the people of Afghanistan over the earthquake and called upon the international community to support the families of those affected by the tragedy. “[The people of Afghanistan] are already reeling from the impact of years of conflict, economic hardship, and hunger. I convey my deep condolences to the families of the victims and wish speedy recovery to the injured. The United Nations in Afghanistan is fully mobilised. Our teams are already on the ground assessing the needs and providing initial support,” he said in a statement released on Wednesday.
Liberation echoes the sentiment of Mr. Guterres’ statement and reiterates its profound concern at the multi-dimensional crisis that now afflicts Afghanistan, underscored in the aftermath of the 22 June earthquake in Paktika province. We express our revulsion at the dire state in which Afghanistan was effectively abandoned in August 2021, as well as the seemingly callous disregard internationally for the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe that has engulfed the country in every respect in the time since. The events of last summer were the culmination of a calculated move on the part of the US and its allies, the consequences and fallout of which simply cannot be foisted onto the backs of the people of Afghanistan – a people who have suffered so much through over forty years of overt malign interference by the US and its allies, the relentless sabotaging of its progressive government during the 1980s, and the devastation wrought by its bloody fallout.
The international community and the various humanitarian aid agencies must move swiftly to co-ordinate and resource a comprehensive response to this disaster and ensure that the Afghan people do not bear the punishment for the sins of their current de-facto rulers. Furthermore, sanctions targeting the Taliban regime must not be allowed to impact upon any such relief effort. If there ever really existed any endeavour or hope to counter the hardening of reactionary and fundamentalist trends in Afghanistan, it is imperative that its people are not left alone in their hour of need and their needs and rights not relegated as somehow inferior to the rest of humanity. Now is the time for international solidarity.
Image: Creative Commons