On one hand, aid is needed to help Afghans who are facing an economic collapse, food shortages and a crumbling health-care system.
On the other hand, Canada wouldn’t want to provide aid that would help strengthen the Taliban, said Aurel Braun, professor of international relations and political science at the University of Toronto.
“If we send food, which seems not unreasonable, how can we assure that the food doesn’t go to feed the Taliban soldiers and the terrorist regime rather than the population?” he told Global News.
“We are facing the kind of classic dilemma that occurs when you’re dealing with terrible regimes.”
The issue of humanitarian aid faced world leaders on Tuesday during a special G20 meeting. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who led the meeting, told reporters at a news conference that leaders unanimously agreed about the need to tackle the humanitarian crisis.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was part of the meeting, and a senior government source told Global News he said the Taliban must let humanitarian assistance continue in an unfettered way. He also brought up the need to push the Taliban to respect Afghans’ rights, especially women and girls, and urged countries to accept more refugees.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that 18 million Afghans — half the country’s population — will be impacted by the crisis, and joined the meeting to emphasize the United Nations’ role as many countries don’t want direct relations with the Taliban.
For those countries set on providing aid, there are other avenues, said Joseph Ingram, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
Ingram said Canada can work with humanitarian partners like the U.N. that have operations in Afghanistan.
“Those organizations are better represented on the ground in rural areas and in urban areas … and will often be able to work directly with non-governmental organizations,” he said.
In fact, Canada is working with organizations like the World Food Programme and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to aid Afghans.
In August, the government announced it would be allocating $50 million for initial humanitarian aid, which is in addition to $27.3 million already allocated for Afghanistan in 2021.
Washington is also embracing this approach and said the G20 leaders reaffirmed their commitments to helping Afghans through these organizations in its summary of the meeting Tuesday.
However, it’s a less than perfect situation, Ingram said, and the Taliban are going to be suspicious of any foreign aid coming from the West.
“There’s going to be risks of misappropriation, but they are in a better position to know whether NGOs are effective or not effective, whether they’re fronts for government or independent,” he said.
“It’s important that the Canadian government work very closely with U.N. organizations or international organizations that are close to the nongovernmental sector.”
Right now, though, experts believe Canada should focus on sending medical aid to help the people of Afghanistan.
As winter approaches, Afghans might see COVID-19 and influenza worsen.
“Sending medicine is not likely to help the Taliban that much … we don’t want to see the struggle of COVID and the development of new mutations of the virus,” Braun said.
“We should try to help in areas where we have some security.”
Since the Taliban took over on Aug. 15, Afghanistan has seen its economy all but collapse, which has led to an exodus of refugees.
Many countries, including Canada, have denounced the Taliban and said they won’t recognize them as Afghanistan’s government.
Even though that’s the case, Draghi said some governments will have no choice but to continue communicating with the Taliban.
“It is very hard to see how you can help people in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban … but that does not mean recognizing them,” he said.
Since getting back into power, the Taliban promised they were a more moderate force than when they last ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, and would allow women and girls to continue their work and education.
However, Guterres has said the Taliban have broken promises on guaranteeing those rights, and that there’s no way Afghanistan’s economy could be fixed if women weren’t allowed to work.
Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi has avoided making firm commitments on girls’ education despite international demands, saying Monday the Islamic Emirate government can’t be expected to complete reforms so fast.
Going forward, Canada must hold the Taliban to account using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which Afghanistan agreed to in 2015, Ingram said.
Those targets include ending poverty, hunger, ensuring quality education and gender equality.
“If they want to get international support … they need to adhere to those sustainable development goals,” Ingram said.
“If they don’t, there will be civil unrest in the country, there will be a recurrence of civil war, they will fall back into corrupt governance and … the government ultimately will fall.”
— With files from Reuters and The Associated Press.