An academic panel on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan told an audience of more than 50 people Tuesday night that humanitarian aid must continue in Afghanistan, even when the situation is no longer a national news story.
The International Affairs Society hosted the four-person panel in Stuart Hall, which was composed of officials working in the field of foreign service for both government and independent agencies.
Joyce E. Leader, a career diplomat in the State Department who works for the Fund for Peace, said that almost half of Afghanistan is suffering from a three-year drought, which has caused widespread starvation, especially during winter.
Leader reminded audience members that Afghanistan’s problems did not begin Sept. 11.
“Afghanistan is in the dire state that it is in because of decades of civil war, five years of Taliban rule and the three-year drought. All of these factors that have led to Afghanistan’s situation are also hindering the process of helping Afghanistan,” she said.
For example, she said the Taliban has been raiding food distribution centers and seizing United Nations offices, actions that have facilitated the breakdown of any kind of rule of law.
John Ruthrauff is an employee of Oxfam America, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian aid. He said the most important action that must take place is increasing the amount of food sent into Afghanistan.
“We have to get up to 2,000 tons a day before the winter really sets in. Once the snow begins to get deep, it is impossible to disperse food over the land because of how terrible the road conditions are,” he said. “Right now we are transporting a large portion of the food on donkeys, but once winter really hits, the only way of getting relief in will be by airlifting it, and that will be incredibly expensive.”
He also proposed negotiating safe no-combat zones that are agreed upon by both opposing sides of the conflict.
“In order for humanitarian workers to be successful, the U.N. must establish no-fire zones that they can operate in. These workers need to be able to work safely and efficiently without being concerned about the dangers of war,” he said.
GW professor Quadir Amiryar, a native of Afghanistan and expert on Middle Eastern conflicts, outlined the actions he feels are necessary in the reconstruction process.
He said the Afghanistan today does not resemble the country it was 20 years ago. Before the Soviet Union invasion, he said, Afghanistan was a land devoted to democratic government, separation of powers and an independent judicial branch. Women were treated as equals to men, often holding high-ranking positions in government and business, Amiryar said.
“The United States should keep taking the action it is pursuing. It must drive Osama bin Laden and his crew of 6,000 out of the country,” he said, also urging the United States to consider the safety of Afghan civilians.
“The U.S. has a legitimate cause, and the Afghans are on the side of America. But the U.S. must realize that this war is a new type of war, one that has never been fought before,” he said.
“It is a war that must be fought on several fronts – the religious front, the psychological front, the humanitarian front and the political front,” Amiryar said. “In order to achieve victory, the U.S. must win on all of these fronts.”
Amiryar concluded by saying the United States and the U.N. must encourage educated and professional Afghans to return to the country. He said these people could be potential leaders, but that decisions about the form of government must be left to Afghans.
“This question must be answered by the people of Afghanistan, not the rest of the world,” he said.