OIC conference


Prime Minister Imran Khan raised the alarm about the “man-made crisis” that is threatening millions of lives in Afghanistan, reminding attendees of the ongoing conference of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Islamabad that a similar huddle 41 years ago had also failed to fully resolve the crisis in the country back then, leading to today’s crisis. Where the crisis back then was exacerbated by the polarisation of the Cold War, today’s crisis is worsened by the West’s fear of giving legitimacy to the Taliban government. Unfortunately, then and now, it is ordinary Afghans who must suffer. PM Imran noted that the West must “delink” the Taliban government from the Afghan people, who are in desperate need. The repeated pointing towards western powers was not coincidental. The US, Germany, and several other countries have observers attending the moot.

At the same time, Imran also credited the Taliban with fulfiling their commitments to the West vis-a-vis avoiding reprisals, forming an inclusive government, and ensuring women’s rights, including education. However, he did underscore this point with a comparison that was not well received in some circles, saying, “The idea of human rights is different in every society.” Imran appeared to ignore that the world’s best known human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, literally has “universal” in its name. These rights are supposed to be guaranteed by all signatories, regardless of society. The rest of the PM’s speech was still on the mark, as he noted the Daesh threat in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s inability to accommodate more refugees amid the Covid-19 pandemic and economic chaos.

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi raised most of the same points in his speech, though also making a point of great importance on the difference between “recognition and engagement” with the new government in Kabul. Countries can work with the Taliban to help the Afghan people without giving the group the same respect shown to an ‘acceptable’ government. Qureshi also noted that “coercion and intimidation” as tactics to force the Taliban’s hand had failed. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud also noted that the worsening economic crisis in Afghanistan could have catastrophic consequences beyond the country’s borders. He was among the world leaders in attendance who called for more assistance to be delivered to the central Asian country.

Unfortunately, despite the urgent calls to action, Sunday’s resolution left much to be desired. The meeting resolved to work with the UN for release of billions in Afghan government assets abroad that were frozen after the Taliban came to power. This is significant because it would allow the Afghan government to pay employees and spend its own money on relief efforts. However, the worse the crisis gets, the less significant these frozen assets become, relative to what will be needed to avert disaster. On this front, it is also concerning that the 31-point resolution lacked details on any financial assistance forthcoming from the OIC or its member states.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 21st, 2021.

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