Aid for Afghan refugees must be part of the West's campaign against terror

Share

The world has been slow to respond to the seriousness of the refugee crisis in and around Afghanistan for two reasons. One is the absence of television pictures. It was the footage of the Kosovo refugees gathered helplessly by the roadside on the Macedonian and Albanian borders that galvanised Nato countries into a successful campaign of humanitarian aid. Camps were built and hundreds of thousands of people were fed, watered and given medical treatment. The 1.5 million Afghans estimated to be newly on the move are, by contrast, invisible to the West. The borders are closed and most of the displaced people are still deep inside the country.

The world has been slow to respond to the seriousness of the refugee crisis in and around Afghanistan for two reasons. One is the absence of television pictures. It was the footage of the Kosovo refugees gathered helplessly by the roadside on the Macedonian and Albanian borders that galvanised Nato countries into a successful campaign of humanitarian aid. Camps were built and hundreds of thousands of people were fed, watered and given medical treatment. The 1.5 million Afghans estimated to be newly on the move are, by contrast, invisible to the West. The borders are closed and most of the displaced people are still deep inside the country.

The other reason is the ambiguity felt about the causes of the present crisis. The trigger for it was the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Our sympathy and sense of injustice has been first engaged on behalf of the families of the victims in New York and Washington; the emergence of another class of victim of an entirely different kind, thousands of miles away, complicates the moral judgements. Especially when one of the reasons why Afghans are abandoning their homes is their fear of bombing by the US and its allies. Since it is generally agreed that doing nothing about Osama bin Laden's organisation, al-Qa'ida, is not an option, that threat cannot be lifted.

However carefully limited the action against al-Qa'ida and its Taliban protectors might be, and this newspaper is encouraged by the restraint that has been shown by the Bush administration, civilian casualties are inevitable – not least because Mr bin Laden and the Taliban military might use civilians as human shields.

It is not simply the threat of Western bombing from which Afghanistan's refugees are fleeing, however. Many of them are also on the run from the Taliban's press gangs trying to enlist them for service in the "holy war". Widening the aims of the "war against terrorism" to include toppling the Taliban, however, will not only make the refugee problem many times worse but offer little prospect of success. Conducting a proxy war by arming the Northern Alliance is not an easy solution. Attempts by the US to install regimes friendly to the West have a poor track record; that is, after all, how Mr bin Laden came in to Afghanistan in the first place. It would have to be done covertly in any case – any government seen as a US puppet regime in a Muslim country is likely to be unstable.

Dealing with the causes of the refugee crisis, therefore, is not easy, and anyone who claims to know all the answers is probably a fool. As with the struggle against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism, the humanitarian effort to help the refugees is likely to be a long one. But, as Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, said yesterday, it needs to be pursued with the same urgency as the attempt to bring the terrorists to justice.

It will be expensive to provide Iran, Pakistan and other neighbouring countries with the help they need to persuade them to open their borders to let the refugees in. But the money must be found. To be fair, Ms Short and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, have already provided substantial new amounts. Germany yesterday pledged extra funds. The US is likely to follow suit. Western nations need to back this up by restating their willingness to provide safe haven for Afghans seeking political asylum.

It seems that, thankfully, the war against terrorism will be fought in a thoughtful way. With this week's arrests, the first figurative shots in that war have been fired. It is to be hoped that the next phase will be conducted with equally little collateral damage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher with SEN responsibilities

£115 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: KS2 teacher with SEN responsibi...

Administrative Assistant

£60 - £75 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Administrative Assitant Hertford...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Young Syrian refugees gather around a small fire at the Minieh camp in Lebanon  

Cameron and Obama may want to ‘destroy’ Isis, but what will they do about the growing number of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria?

Kate Allen
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments