S Jaishankar calls for ‘unrestricted’ access to Afghanistan for aid work
Reaffirming India’s long and historical ties with Afghanistan and its people, external affairs minister S Jaishankar on Monday called for humanitarian assistance providers to be accorded “unimpeded, unrestricted” access to the country” saying it faces a grave situation that could imperil global fight against poverty and regional stability.
Participating virtually or in person in a high-level meeting of the United Nations on humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, representatives from other donor countries expressed similar sentiments and stressed the need for keeping a close eye on the Taliban to ensure they delivered on their commitments.
“Among the challenges that the current situation poses, is that of efficient logistics,” S Jaishankar said in an intervention in the high level meeting called by UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres. “It is therefore essential that humanitarian assistance providers are accorded unimpeded, unrestricted, and direct access to Afghanistan.”
He added: “Once relief materials reach that country, the world will naturally expect a non-discriminatory distribution of humanitarian assistance, across all sections.”
To draw attention to the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan, S Jaishankar cited recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) numbers that show Afghanistan’s poverty level could shoot from the current 72% to 97%, which, he added, “would have catastrophic consequences not just in our collective fight against poverty, but also for regional stability”.
S Jaishankar underscored India’s interest - and concern - in Afghanistan as an immediate neighbour with long-time ties to the people of that country. “India’s own approach to Afghanistan has always been guided by its historical friendship with its people,” he said, adding, “This will continue to be the case.”
S Jaishankar cited some of the more than 500 projects India undertook and carried out in Afghanistan, with footprints in all of its 34 provinces. In all, India provided assistance worth more than $3 billion in Afghanistan since the fall of the first Taliban regime in 2001.
Shut out of Afghanistan by the Pakistan-backed Taliban now, as it was during the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, India is recalibrating its approach to Afghanistan, and has sought to focus the future of its ties with the country on its people.
“Today, I wish to underline that in the face of a grave, emerging situation. India is willing to stand by the Afghan people, just as in the past, to ensure that this (aid and humanitarian work) happens speedily and effectively,” S Jaishankar said, adding, “We believe that the international community must come together to create the best possible enabling environment.”
Similar concerns and reservations were expressed by other countries, mainly those who have provided aid to Afghanistan and have committed to continue doing so, irrespective of the regime change in Kabul.
The United States, for instance, announced $64 million additional aid to Afghanistan but called for the Taliban to assure safe passage and security of aid workers as they have promised. “Words are not good enough. We must see action,” said US permanent representatives to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield. “The international community is unified in this message - humanitarian aid agencies cannot do their job if the Taliban does not uphold those core commitments and humanitarian principles.”