Taliban Asks World for Aid as Afghanistan Earthquake Death Toll Passes 1,000

Taliban fighters guard at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, June 18, 2022. Several explosions and gunfire ripped through a Sikh temple in Afghanistan's capital. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi

The Taliban terrorist organization that runs Afghanistan requested on Wednesday that foreign governments and the broader international community help it respond to a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that the jihadists say killed well over 1,000 people.

At press time, the Taliban’s Bakhtar News Agency placed the death toll at over 1,000 and estimated that about 1,500 people have been injured. The earthquake struck in eastern Afghanistan, impacting the Paktika and Khost provinces most severely.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid issued a statement on Wednesday urging the world to help the Taliban respond to the disaster. No other state recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, although organizations like the United Nations have approved cooperation with the terrorist group, referring vaguely to its leaders as “relevant Afghan political actors.”

“Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and casualties are likely to rise,” Mujahid warned. “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan extends its condolences to the families of the victims, their relatives, and all the people of Afghanistan for this tragic event, and prays to Allah Almighty for the martyrs and for the immediate healing of the wounded.”

Mujahid called on “the international community, charities, and humanitarian organizations to help the Afghans in this great tragedy.” The Taliban official did not specify what help the country currently needs or request specifically that the money go to the Taliban, instead urging the world “to help the victims in any way possible.”

Harrowing photos from eastern Afghanistan published by Taliban and other Afghan media showed locals attempting to organize the bodies of the dead, using blankets to cover them up, and makeshift search and rescue teams looking for survivors in large piles of rubble.

Mujahid also updated in a separate statement that the Taliban leadership had organized a meeting to discuss distributing 1 billion afghanis (about $11 million) in aid and deploying “all relevant agencies to send emergency relief teams” to Khost and Paktika.

The affected provinces lie on the Pakistani border in a deeply impoverished area prone to landslides. Pakistani officials confirmed that some areas of the country also felt the earthquake, though the vast majority of the known damage occurred in Afghanistan. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that, within Pakistan, the most affected areas were Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore, Kohat, Mohmand, Swat, Buner, and other parts of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The newspaper reported at least one death in Pakistan, a man whose roof collapsed above him.

In Afghanistan, much of the immediate response has been preparing graves, wire services reported, as well as finding survivors. A local official told journalists that survivors are known to still be trapped under destroyed homes, but operations to free them have been compromised by ongoing rain.

Afghanistan was already suffering one of the most severe economic crises in the world prior to the earthquake. The United Nations estimated last month that almost 20 million people in the country — about half the population — are facing starvation. Any potential relief for the country from its upcoming wheat harvest is partially compromised by global concerns regarding wheat and other crop shortages related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the U.N. observed at the time.

“Fallout from the war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on Afghanistan’s wheat supply, food commodities, agricultural inputs, and fuel prices,” the U.N. suggested in May. “Furthermore, access to seeds, fertilizer and water for irrigation is limited, labour opportunities are scarce, and people have incurred enormous debts to buy food over the past few months.”

The Taliban banned exporting wheat in May, according to spokesman Mujahid, to “prevent a shortage of wheat in the country.”

The jihadist organization took control of Afghanistan in August 2021 after President Joe Biden extended the 20-year-old American war in the country, breaking an agreement that the prior administration of Donald Trump had brokered with the Taliban. Breaking the deal to continue the war past the initial May deadline through the summer prompted the Taliban to break its agreements to cease attacks. The jihadists instead went on a national campaign to conquer the entire country and succeeded, prompting former President Ashraf Ghani to flee the capital, Kabul, on August 15 without fighting.

The Taliban takeover resulted in international organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) cutting off Afghanistan from key government funding, as they do not recognize the terrorist group as an official government. The Taliban’s response to being essentially cut off from the international economic system has been to demand that countries like the United States fund them while simultaneously seeking deals with authoritarian regimes like Russia and China.

China, whose Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) courts impoverished countries into predatory loans on the promise that China will never demand any respect for human rights from its debtors, has expressed particular interest. The Taliban announced in early May that China had agreed to build an industrial park outside of Kabul set to feature 150 factories, a mosque, schools, and parks.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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