23 May 2024

Global sympathy travels fast, based on the news in the headlines. The other day it was Yemen. The day before, it was Myanmar. Today it’s all about Afghanistan. It appears that these events, rarely followed up in any depth by either the New York Times or the Washington Post, have been resolved or disappeared. These leading media outlets are very good at zeroing in on US policies and their implications. Their reporters can dig up details that show how complex the US is, but little about how to rescue the victims of these events. Once the mood shifts in Washington, the headlines focus on more exciting stories.

The United Nations has often alerted the international community to looming catastrophes and warned of their effects on humanity and the survival of the planet. In the past weeks alone, the UN has issued all sorts of warnings, ranging from disastrous climate change to food shortages, from the refugee crisis to North Korea’s unyielding nuclear ambitions, but only a few issues have caught the full attention of leading global media outlets.

While the Afghan debacle still dominates the evening news in the US, at least from a political standpoint, the international community must work hard to ensure that future action plans are in place. The Biden administration still lives with a sense of guilt for leaving Afghanistan so abruptly, especially as so many unintended and ugly consequences have resulted. Now the UN is warning that one million Afghan children could die from hunger this coming winter, if there is no emergency aid provided. Of course, these children will suffer if the international community refuses to provide aid to the new Taliban government. With such a humanitarian urgency, discussions about the nature of governance by the Taliban are of little consequence. Saving lives is more important.

In Geneva, the international community pledged over US$1 billion to assist Afghanistan. That’s good news, but the problem ahead is more complicated: How can the international community channel these funds to the neediest persons without disruption or interference by the Taliban or extremist groups?

Since the Taliban took power, the top echelons have been appealing for sympathy and better understanding of their new attitudes and behaviour. The local people and international community are not, however, convinced.

They have learned from the past that the Taliban has often lied and failed to deliver what they have promised. The result is that there are lot of Afghans, in particular women with professional skills, who dare not stay on and face an unknown future. They know that, at this juncture, the Taliban will try everything to persuade them not to leave. What would be the future if the Taliban changing its policies? They would be helpless and face potentially dire consequences.

This photo taken on August 7, 2021 shows a man unloading an empty coffin from his bike as volunteers arrive to pick up the dead body of a suspected Covid-19 coronavirus victim in Taungoo district in Myanmar’s Bago region, some 220km from Yangon. – As Myanmar faces a deadly resurgent wave of Covid-19, a tightknit team of volunteers working tirelessly to treat, bury and cremate coronavirus victims are facing stigma from their families and being told not to return home due to fear of spreading the disease. (Photo by Ye Aung Thu / AFP) / To go with ‘MYANMAR-HEALTH-VIRUS,PHOTOESSAY’

While Afghanistan has grabbed global attention for now, Myanmar’s quagmire is getting worse, due to the spread of COVID-19 and internal fighting between the resistance forces and the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military. The international community must not turn away from the region. The humanitarian crisis in Myanmar is very serious. The international pledging of funds for Myanmar, which was organized by Thailand last month, collected about US$8 million. This is a pittance compared to the US$1 billion promised for Afghanistan.

Both Afghanistan and Myanmar have something in common; they are both situated in strategic locations. Afghanistan is at the heart of Central Asia while Myanmar is sandwiched between China and India. So, the international community must help to ensure that they will not become pawns in strategic superpower games.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn