A former senior UN official emphasizes that the West should cease “Great Game” politics and prioritize the well-being of the Afghan people.
Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundation and a former senior UN official, stated in the Financial Times that the current international policy harms those most in need, especially women and girls.
He highlighted the dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, noting that as the world nears the second anniversary of the “Taliban’s victory declaration on August 31, 2021,” the number of Afghans needing urgent aid has risen from 18.4 million to 28.8 million, with 6 million on the brink of famine.
He mentioned that this is also a component of a prolonged cycle of geopolitical and regional rivalry that has consistently neglected the well-being of the Afghan people.
“Whether the policy has been proxy war or neglect, invasion or sponsorship of insurgents, surge or drawdown, outsiders have consistently ill-served the country’s people in a way that has typically led to the next chapter in the tragedy,” Brown said.
Regarding the worsened state of Afghanistan, Malloch-Brown’s article “Ending the ‘Great Game’ in Afghanistan” asserts that Afghanistan is again becoming isolated – devoid of diplomatic recognition, diminishing aid, sanctions, and frozen assets.
“In the US and Britain, many are all too keen to brush the policy failures the country represents under the proverbial carpet; best forgotten before the next elections,” he wrote.
“But this is also part of a longer cycle of geopolitical and regional competition that has consistently failed to put the Afghan people first.”
Malloch-Brown said that “promoting ordinary Afghans … involves dealing with” the ruling regime in Afghanistan, even if that means making nominal concessions to it.”
He proposed the formation of a contact group consisting of Western powers, Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries, the Taliban, and, ideally, Afghan civil society. This group could work towards various objectives, such as implementing a more compassionate approach to counter-narcotics efforts, enhancing aid distribution with a focus on women and girls, and providing more precise guidelines on sanctions to stimulate foreign investment in sectors like irrigation.
“It might engage with Afghan actors beyond the Taliban, sowing the seeds of a more inclusive polity,” he said.
Malloch-Brown said that the isolation of Afghanistan might “seem justified in light of the Taliban’s brutality, human rights abuses and sheer misgovernment”, but this has the perverse effect of harming the regime’s victims most.
He stated that all parties must prevent Afghanistan from descending into chaos. If the country faces famine, state collapse, or new conflicts, it would not only destabilize Pakistan and the broader region but also lead to an increase in refugees. Notably, Afghans constitute the largest group attempting to cross the English Channel.
“This presents Western and other leaders with a simple choice: keep pursuing ‘Great Game’ politics or, for once, put the people of Afghanistan first. More than 30 years of the former have got us where we are. A new approach is long overdue.”