Tajikistan has Begun to Allow Humanitarian Aid to Afghanistan
Dec 7, 2021
Tajikistan has taken on a new role in Afghanistan, becoming a distributor of aid and providing corridors for the United Nations. Dushanbe has begun operations to assist the United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP) in aid distribution to Afghanistan, a significant shift in Tajikistan-Afghanistan government relations. Tajikistan offered the UNWFP a ground and an air corridor to transport humanitarian aid cargo to remote regions of Afghanistan.
This move will greatly enhance efforts to distribute aid to parts of Afghanistan that have not yet received assistance from the UNWFP via Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has provided significant shipments of food and medical aid through its overland Termez corridor into northern Afghanistan; however, this has not been sufficient to combat the humanitarian crisis that is emerging in the wake of the Taliban takeover. Tajikistan’s assistance to relief efforts will allow aid to be more widely distributed by United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) and the World Food Program workers on the ground in Afghanistan and strengthen the role Central Asian states play in regional humanitarian aid relief. Over the last decade, Central Asian states have continually attempted to integrate Afghanistan into their larger political, economic, and security framework through aid, energy, economic, and business opportunities, and there have been some successes. However, with the Taliban takeover on August 15 the priorities of the Central Asian states have shifted away from economic integration into increasingly securing their countries against the Taliban. It will remain to be seen whether these new projects and investments will reinvigorate Afghanistan into the larger region. As the Taliban continue to remain internationally unrecognized, economic catastrophe and humanitarian disaster loom large in Afghanistan, despite help from the United Nations facilitated by Afghanistan’s northern neighbors.
The ground corridor from Tajikistan will prove critical to assist in aid distribution provided by international donors. The first planned convoy will deliver 2,500 tons of wheat flour early in December to difficult-to-reach regions of Afghanistan, such as the border province of Badakhshan neighboring Tajikistan. The most significant aspect of this aid effort is the newly accessible air corridor that Tajikistan has created that will link Dushanbe to Kabul, allowing international humanitarian aid to flow into the country exponentially faster than through overland routes. This operation will allow the United Nations Humanities Air Service to deliver aid to World Food Program workers operating within Afghanistan and assist their efforts to mitigate the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding as a result of food, medicine, and cash shortages.
The situation in Afghanistan after the August 15 takeover is dire. Refugees and internally displaced persons, drought, food scarcity, a collapsing economy, and the approaching winter drive the need for an international collaborative effort to prevent further escalation of the humanitarian crisis. From a security and political standpoint, Central Asian governments are very uneasy with the Taliban ruling Afghanistan due to fears of terrorism and radicalization, refugee flows, and border insecurity that could impact the stability and governance of the states in the region. While this may be true, these countries will likely have to engage with the Taliban government in order to mitigate the humanitarian crisis from spiraling out of control.
Tajikistan had previously refused to recognize the Taliban government even though Dushanbe still offered life-saving assistance to Afghanistan's vulnerable population, including women, children, elderly, Afghan National Army and Police personnel, and ethnic and religious minorities such as the Hazara, Tajiks, and other Shia and Sufi minority groups. The newly opened corridors are a critical component to distribute aid before the worst of winter arrives and cuts access to these regions, leaving millions of people stranded without sufficient food and supplies for the winter. The cooperation of Dushanbe, Kabul, and the UNWFP, in collaboration with local Afghan partners on the ground, exemplifies the pragmatic decision-making that Central Asian states must now engage in when dealing with the Taliban. As Afghanistan quickly becomes one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters, Central Asian states will continue to bear the burden of logistical support and capabilities for crucial assistance to Afghanistan. The Central Asian states, like much of the world, have thus far been careful to avoid conflating support for the people of Afghanistan with support for the Taliban’s new ruling government. It remains to be seen if this difficult balancing act can continue successfully.