Wednesday May 18, 2022

PM tasks AICC to push Afghan welfare plans

By S Rahman
January 18, 2022

It was in line with the golden principles of Riasat-i-Madina that in November last, Prime Minister Imran Khan established the Afghanistan Inter-Ministerial Coordination Cell (AICC), headed by a dynamic figure, Dr Moeed Yusuf, to function as a policy formulation and implementation forum for various activities aimed at the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

And, as it drew inspiration from the noblest and most humane concept of a welfare state that achieved wonderful heights with the advent of Islam, efforts have been made to empower AICC with an effective coordination mechanism and a system of consistent follow-up, as is clearly evident from the composition of this Cell. The members of this group come from ministries ranging from the Interior, Foreign Affairs, Finance, Commerce, representatives of Customs, National Logistics Cell (NLC), Civil Aviation, State Bank, and Frontier Corps, all of which have been tasked by the PM to ensure smooth flow of people to and from Afghanistan as well as regular trade across the borders.

The focus, from day one, is on practical, diversified assistance to be provided to the forsaken people of Afghanistan whose $ 9 billion funds have been frozen abroad at the United States’ behest. The word ‘implementation’ suffices to suggest that the prime minister means business as compared with many such endeavours of the past that could not yield the desired results, given the lack of a follow-up mechanism and inadequate implementation capacity.

Already, the first consignment of 1,800 metric tonnes of wheat, as humanitarian assistance, has been delivered as part of the package of 50,000 metric tonnes of wheat plus further in-kind assistance, adding up to five billion rupees, also envisaging the delivery of winter shelters and emergency medical supplies to our Afghan brethren who are facing abject misery in the aftermath of decades’ old armed conflicts and proxy wars.

The soothing part of this whole exercise is that Prime Minister Imran Khan is desirous of going far beyond the originally announced assistance package of five billion rupees ($28 million), which, though not enough to rescue the Afghans out of the abyss of misery, can nevertheless be described as a good start in the direction of Afghan people’s survival. The assistance package is diversified too since it includes food items, lifesaving drugs, winter supplies and shelter besides assistance in the fields of health, education and training.

Reporting to Dr Moeed Yusuf who ultimately reports to the prime minister, various initiatives have been planned in this context and AICC has been tasked to look after (a) visa facilitation for INGOs and foreign investors for relief work in Afghanistan; (b) sustained supply of wheat (c) refurbishment of hospitals & (d) free Covid-19 vaccination on borders. AICC is also working on comprehensive proposals for expansion and additional diversification of cooperation under the assistance package especially in the fields of health and education. A delegation led by National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf, who heads AICC, is scheduled to visit Afghanistan on Jan 18-19 to in this connection.

Coming to the details about the AICC initiatives, the Ministry of Interior has introduced an elaborate mechanism to facilitate relief activities of International Non-Government Organisations (INGOs) in Afghanistan. The main target to be achieved through the introduction of these new measures is to further and promote the humanitarian assistance efforts in war-torn Afghanistan. With this arrangement in place, both the new INGOs as well as those already registered, will benefit from it. An INGO applying for registration would be required to submit a credentials verification letter from the concerned embassy, proof of registration in the country of origin besides providing the source of funding along with local residence address and details of its designated staff. This element of transparency had become all the more important in accordance with the PM’s policy of conducting all the affairs in a transparent manner, also in the backdrop of questionable conduct of a few INGOs in the past. In order to put the things on a fast track, the scrutiny committee will complete the process within three weeks.

Likewise, the process of issuance of visas has been made time-efficient and less cumbersome as the time duration for the processing of visa requests has been reduced to 10 days and entry visas for INGOs’ or International organisations’ staff wanting to work for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, will be issued without security clearance.

As regards the refurbishment of hospitals inside Afghanistan, the AICC has been assigned the task of setting up teams of engineers, technicians who are adept in the hospitals’ refurbishment skills and expertise.

Pakistan’s Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination has already dispatched a team of engineers and technicians to Afghanistan for early completion of three new hospitals to provide relief to the people of the war-torn neighbouring country. Buildings of three hospitals — namely the Nishtar Hospital, Jalalabad; Jinnah Hospital, Kabul; and Logari Hospital, Logar — have been completed. Moreover, the installation and commissioning of medical equipment worth Rs2 billion is under way. To bring the medical equipment in use, a team of four Pakistani engineers along with technicians, has also been working round the clock. This would help achieve Universal Health Coverage in our brotherly neighbouring country.

In the area of free Covid-19 vaccination on borders, more than one hundred thousand (100,000) people travelling from across Afghan borders have been successfully vaccinated against Covid-19 since November last year. Over 51,600 and 55,000 people have been vaccinated at Torkham and Chaman border crossings, respectively. In this regards, Ministry of National Health Services has pledged to provide over five hundred thousand doses of Covid-19 vaccine for vaccination at the borders.