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Lionel Rosenblatt is a former Foreign Service Officer, who was a U.S. refugee coordinator at the American Embassy Bangkok. He is a former Bangor Daily News reporter. Larry Clinton Thompson is a former diplomat in Afghanistan and author of “Refugee Workers in the Indochina Exodus.”
Several former U.S. national security advisers have recently commented that the shambolic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 badly damaged American credibility. This comes as the U.S. faces Russian advances on Ukraine and some disarray among our allies. The good news is that some of the shattered U.S. credibility can still be resurrected, enhancing U.S. national security at a critical juncture and bringing belated safety to some who risked all for America.
Based especially on the successful Indochinese refugee programs after the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, principles and practices can be adapted to the Afghanistan situation. We also firmly believe that we have a continuing moral obligation to those Afghans who trusted us — just as we did to our partners during the Vietnam War.
Afghans seeking asylum in neighboring countries — first asylum nations — should be guaranteed entry, protection and care and ultimately third country resettlement for those who qualify. This must be done under the United Nations’ auspices, with assurances to the countries providing first asylum that they will not be unduly burdened by the temporary presence of asylum-seekers on their soil.
The U.S. should seek ways to start a resettlement program direct from Afghanistan for our high-risk former employees and associates as was implemented many years ago in Vietnam for those in danger because of their association with America. This was accomplished in Vietnam despite the fact that the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with Hanoi and no official presence inside the country.
That we have no official relations with the Taliban is not in itself a bar to starting a program (just as then we had informal contacts, are there ways to be in touch with the Taliban). At least 20,000 high-risk partners and their families — maybe more — remain in Afghanistan. We have no way of knowing exactly as the administration has obfuscated the number of our most endangered associates.
To move ahead on this, bipartisan congressional leadership is required. Congress should make clear to the White House and the State Department that America stands by its former partners and in so doing shore up our credibility as American reliability is being questioned.
In addition, there is the unfinished business in Afghanistan of women and girls who had built full life plans, and who are now at the mercy of Taliban fundamentalism.
War’s end has left Afghanistan on the brink of total collapse. One-half of the population, more than 20 million people, is in danger of starvation this year.
The U.N. has launched an appeal for $5 billion, including $600 billion for Afghan refugees in Pakistan and other countries in the region. More than 300,000 Afghans have fled to Pakistan since the Taliban took over in August 2021. More than a million Afghans are believed to be in Pakistan. The U.S. has pledged $308 billion to the U.N.’s humanitarian appeal.
To avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and the region, international and U. S. funds should be released immediately for emergency food and shelter, but in leveraged fashion; the U.N. World Food Program has a history in Afghanistan of delivering assistance to the most needy victims. The U.N. must ensure that it speaks with one voice to the Taliban. Refugees and migrants are not just a humanitarian challenge; unassisted they can unleash political firestorms that can destroy countries already under great stress with unforeseeable tragic consequences.