Bangladesh has shown that despite its own humanitarian challenges, it can provide much-needed financial assistance to vulnerable countries like Afghanistan.
Bangladesh often gets global attention for its geopolitical quandary, US-backed targeted sanctions on security apparatus and climate disasters, while ignoring its significant and proven contribution to humanitarian activities. Though Bangladesh’s realization of humanitarian diplomacy has not been developed for many years, an impressive record of development and growth over the last decade, owing to the demographic dividend, robust ready-made garment exports, remittances, and comparatively stable macroeconomic circumstances, motivates the country to use its soft power through humanitarian assistance.
Natural calamities including cyclones, floods, droughts, earthquakes, heat waves, forest fires, severe food and energy scarcity caused by the Ukraine-Russia conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sri Lanka crisis, and the Afghan humanitarian catastrophe remind South Asian countries to revitalize the SAARC food bank and the SAARC disaster management framework to navigate economic and humanitarian turmoil in member nations. Unfortunately, no major breakthrough in regional cooperation and coordination has occurred due to the respective countries’ narrowly defined geopolitical calculation.
It is evident that Afghanistan, under the new Taliban regime, is confronting a wide range of challenges from severe economic and humanitarian crises to a lack of inclusive governance, international recognition, human rights, and terrorism concerns. Among them, humanitarian challenges have intensified in parts of Afghanistan recently when a powerful earthquake on June 22 killed some 1,150 people, including at least 155 children, and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in the hardest-hit south-eastern Paktika and Khost provinces.
While the Taliban are hoping for support from the international community, many Asian as well as Western countries hesitate to extend assistance, as no country has yet recognized the Taliban government, not even the nations seen as closest to the regime, such as Pakistan or China. Moreover, after the Taliban’s rise to power on August 15, Western countries froze billions of dollars in Afghan central bank assets, including $10 billion held by the US Federal Reserve. Additionally, Western countries also suspended financial assistance to Afghanistan, a nation that is heavily dependent on aid which accounts for 43% of the country’s GDP.
However, while many Western developed nations bypassed their responsibilities towards the Afghan people, it is really praiseworthy that Bangladesh has delivered a sizable amount of emergency relief in the form of dried food, blankets, tents, and medicines to earthquake-hit Afghanistan as part of its ongoing efforts to broaden its network of humanitarian aid. Needless to say, Bangladesh earlier sent Tk. 10 million to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to assist the Afghan people when the country plunged into deep social and political turmoil after the Taliban took over following the withdrawal of the US military from the country.
The writer is a freelance contributor.