In the 100 days since the takeover by the Taliban in Afghanistan, the country seems to be teetering on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. It is facing an economic meltdown with uncertainty looming large in all sectors. The rest of the world looks on, wary and on alert of the possible impact the situation may have on the region and on an international scale as well.
These observations were made by discussants at a roundtable on ‘Taliban Takeover in Afghanistan: Regional and International Implications’, organised jointly by Dhaka Tribune and Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) on Tuesday at The Westin in the capital. They urged the international community to come forward with aid and assistance for the Afghan people to help avoid a humanitarian disaster.
In his opening remarks, Maj Gen ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), president of BIPSS, highlighted the bleak situation in Afghanistan, saying that the humanitarian situation there is dire, with real prospects of mass starvation. “The winter months are going to be especially tough,” he stressed.
Zafar Sohban, editor of The Dhaka Tribune, in his welcome remarks said it had been 100 days since the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, and it was important to take a deeper look at the impact of this situation, including how it may affect Bangladesh.
Highlighting the impact of the Afghanistan predicament, Maj Gen Muniruzzaman (retd) further said, “The state is failing and a failed Afghanistan will be a bigger security problem for the region and for international stability.”
He said the focus should now be on the Afghan people. “We should also try to consolidate and sustain the social gains achieved in the last 20 years. A stable and economically viable Afghanistan is in the interest of the region and the international community,” he said, warning that “Afghanistan should not become a playground of major powers competing for strategic space.”
The new trend of Bangladesh youth getting energised by Taliban victory is disturbing, the biggest threat being the cyber radical linksMaj Gen ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), president, BIPSS
Muniruzzaman further said, “The situation in Afghanistan has deep consequences for the geopolitical, geo-economic, geo-energy and geo-environment conditions of the region.”
Referring to the possible impact the Taliban takeover may have in Bangladesh, the BIPSS president said, “The footprint of Afghan Taliban and Afghan Jihad is very prominent in the violent extremism landscape of Bangladesh. The new trend of Bangladesh youth getting energised by Taliban victory is disturbing, the biggest threat being the cyber radical links.”
A huge vacuum had been created after the pull out of the US troops. This was a vacuum in financial, social and other terms, with no preparation of how it was to be filledMaj Gen Firdaus Mian (retd), former chairman, BIISS
Taking stock of the Taliban takeover on 15 August, Maj Gen Firdaus Mian (retd), former chairman of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), said that a huge vacuum had been created after the pull out of the US troops. This was a vacuum in financial, social and other terms, with no preparation of how it was to be filled.
Another problem he pointed out was that there was no central government established as yet and it was yet to be seen how long it would take to form this government.
The former BIISS chairman posed the question, “Will Afghanistan become a hub of extremism again?”
He said, “If we look at the situation from the viewpoint of the Afghanistan government, there is the issue of legality and acceptance. All financial assistance had been stopped,” adding that there was hunger, winter was approaching and the situation was deteriorating. “This is the kind of environment in which terrorism thrives,” he said. “It was a potential ground for extremism to rise and expand.”
China had a calculated indifference, but it wanted to play a more assertive role in Afghanistan due to the ethnic ties of the Uyghur Muslims with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the threat of Islamic terrorist groupsLailufar Yasmin, Professor, Department of International Relations, Dhaka University
Highlighting the uncertainty of the situation, professor Lailufar Yasmin of Dhaka University’s Department of International Relations, said, “A number of countries are calling for the creation of an inclusive government, but we do not even know who is controlling Afghanistan. No central leader could ever control Afghanistan with its rugged terrain and other issues.”
She asked, “Will this inclusive government be on the basis of democratic norms or what?”
Speaking of the response of other countries in the region and beyond to the Afghanistan situation, she said so far only Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have recognised it after the Taliban take over. Afghanistan was important to India in many ways. It connects to Iran and others through Afghanistan. China had a calculated indifference, but it wanted to play a more assertive role in Afghanistan due to the ethnic ties of the Uyghur Muslims with Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the threat of Islamic terrorist groups.
Picking up on the economic state of Afghanistan at present, Parvez Karim Abbasi, assistant professor of economics at East West University, said that poverty there was extreme, with 70 per cent below the poverty line before the outbreak of Covid-19 and this was predicted to be 97 per cent by next year.
Yet, he pointed out, Afghanistan was rich in reserves, with 2.2 billion tonnes of iron ore, 183 million tonnes of aluminum, 2700 kg of gold deposits, one million tonnes of pink marble or onyx, 500 million tonnes of limestone, 516 million tonnes of copper as well as vast resources of lithium, uranium and more. Yet all this hadn’t translated into economic wealth.
There were huge caches of weapons in Afghanistan too, left by disbanded forces of the Afghan army. There were the fringe groups who use religion to export violence. They could become mercenariesParvez Karim Abbasi, assistant professor of economics at East West University
About the impact of the Afghanistan scenario on Bangladesh, Parvez Karim Abbasi said Afghanistan is not that far away and there were several concerns to be taken into consideration. There was the possibility of narco-terrorism and consignments of opium can come in. There were huge caches of weapons in Afghanistan too, left by disbanded forces of the Afghan army. There were the fringe groups who use religion to export violence. They could become mercenaries.
Rounding up the discussion, Maj Gen Muniruzzaman said there could well be a mineral rush in Afghanistan, but the country could also be a source of exporting instability, violent terrorism, drugs and so on.
On a positive note, the BIPSS president pointed out, there had been a rise of a vibrant society over the past 20 years in Afghanistan, with development of education, women, a free press and more. “This cannot be wasted,” he said, adding that a constructive role could be played by neighbours Pakistan, Iran, India and even China and others.
A lively round of questions and comments followed from the other participants, including foreign dignitaries, serving and former diplomats, former civil and military bureaucrats, academics, media persons and others.
Thanking everyone, Zafar Sohban ended on a pragmatic note, saying that whether the Taliban takeover was good or bad, there was an obvious consensus around the table that the Afghan people cannot be abandoned. It must be kept in mind, he said, that this was an impending humanitarian crisis and potential instability that could extend further with Afghanistan as the epicentre.