By: Iakovos Balassi
The Afghan government has another crisis on its hands. This year, about 800,000 Afghan refugees have returned, mainly from Pakistan and Iran. In addition, in October the government signed a deal with the European Union to send tens of thousands of Afghans home. Coupled with a large wave of internally displaced people (IDPs), which the UN predicts to be 323,000 and increasing, food and housing shortages have made it clear that the government is struggling to manage repatriation effectively.
At the same time, the Afghan government is struggling to contain and protect civilians from a resurgent Taliban, which is responsible for most of the displacement. In a July report the UN claimed that during the first half of 2016, over 1,600 civilians were killed and 3,565 wounded in violence across the country.
In the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) October 30, 2016 report to Congress, it is “reported that approximately 63.4% of the country’s districts are under Afghan government control or influence as of August 28, 2016, a decrease from the 65.6% reported as of May 28, 2016.” The report claims that 22 districts in 16 provinces are under insurgent control, while 116 districts are described as being “contested.”
Furthermore, experts believe the Taliban is receiving greater support from al-Qaeda. At a time when the Afghan government should be increasing its counterinsurgency efforts, its ability to manage the repatriation effort and its IDP problem might be minimal. This could risk a humanitarian crisis, which the Taliban would certainly use to its advantage to kill more civilians and gain political support as well as more territory.
The United Nations should not wait for this to spiral into a full-blown humanitarian crisis to act. They should launch a humanitarian effort to help relocate civilians, provide food and blankets, and work with the Afghan government on a home-building project that the UN can start and the government can pick up once progress has been made.
Clearly, the current security climate will pose challenges and certainly limit the effort, but the Afghan people and government should not be left to deal with these challenges alone. The risk of escalating violence and the consequent stretching of resources will only help the Taliban and hurt civilians. If the government cannot provide adequate assistance, and the international community is unwilling to, civilians could be left to turn to the Taliban for help.
This effort should be viewed as a great opportunity to welcome Afghans back home and combat the Taliban at the same time. Working with locals and starting grassroots projects can aid the counterinsurgency, helping to isolate the Taliban from certain communities. On the international level, this should be viewed as an opportunity to take a step forward in tackling the current migration crisis. With mass migration occurring across Africa and throughout the Middle East, the international community cannot afford for this repatriation effort to result in disaster and more displacement. Failure to take advantage of this opportunity could turn potential progress into further instability and insecurity throughout the region.