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Left Out in the Cold: The Perilous Homecoming of Afghan Refugees.

AN ASTONISHING 1.4 million Afghan refugees returned home last year from Pakistan and Iran. It was many more than might have been expected considering the destruction and unsettled conditions inside Afghanistan. How will they get on with rebuilding their communities? And will the remaining three million Afghans living in exile return later this year?

These are among the issues raised in Left Out in the Cold, an incisive and hard-hitting report published by the US Committee for Refugees, which is financially independent of the US government. It demands that the United States should take the lead in mobilising a response to the UN's appeal for funds, complaining: "Washington was able to find more than $2 billion to aid the mujahedin during the 1980s. It has only found some $14 million in cash and food aid for the UN's emergency relief, repatriation, and rehabilitation programme" which went on in 1992.

US aid was partly spent on giving cash and grain incentives to refugees to quit Pakistan. The mass-return started after the fall of President Najibullah in April 1992. Many of the returnees were helped by a UN scheme of encashment, by which registered refugee families cashed in their ration cards in return for a grant of $130 plus 300 kilos of wheat to take back to their villages - mostly close to the border. Others who were not registered received nothing in the way of help.

In spite of the urgent need for help inside Afghanistan, the four appeals for financial help issued by the UN during 1992 met with a lukewarm or poor international response. Organisers of the Peshawar-based humanitarian relief organisations are quoted extensively. Erik Christensen of the Danish Committee (DACAAR) claims, quite simply, "the major problem for Afghanistan and Afghans is that the donor community has, by and large, turned its back on Afghanistan".

The end of the Cold War has brought with it indifference to the future of Afghanistan. But it is no less true that the cynical antics of the rival Afghan leaders have dismayed many of their erstwhile supporters. In addition, potential donors were unfortunately scared away by errors, inadequacies and over-ambitious objectives of the UN's Operation Salam, mounted under the overall direction of Prince Sadruddin Agha Khan.

The international community as a whole is blamed here for passivity and indifference. Besides the United States, Japan, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands have also given limited funds for the UN agencies, but other Western countries should also do much more to help.

Russia, as successor state of the Soviet Union, is not absolved either for the terribly destructive war waged by the Soviets in Afghanistan. Even if Russia is now bankrupt, it should provide symbolic help. Like most observers, the author regards it as vital that other regional powers - Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia - should stop their interference in Afghanistan, four years after the Soviet military withdrawal.

Two factors will decide Afghanistan's future, claims this report. The first is the mujahedin leaders' ability to achieve reconciliation between themselves, the second the reaction of the international community to give help. "Afghans may reject an offer of outside mediation, but it must be pursued. The stakes are very high", warns Hiram Ruiz.

The paper's conclusion is that helping Afghans recover from the long war is not only morally right, but politically expedient: "Instability in the heart of Central Asia, whether economic, social, or political, can only lead to increased instability worldwide."
COPYRIGHT 1993 IC Publications Ltd.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Middle East
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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