When the Afghan government announced last week that it was sending $500,000 “in a show of sympathy to the people of Gaza,” many here and abroad wondered if a nation still reliant on aid — and suffering rising civilian casualty rates — should be providing financial assistance to others.
For some, the announcement was a positive step, showing that Kabul was ready to do its part to help others in need. Hasan, a middle-aged Kabul resident, was supportive of the decision taken by a senior committee headed by President Hamid Karzai.
“They need the help. They are suffering,” Hasan said of the hundreds of Palestinians killed since Israel began its latest air and ground assault earlier this month.
Hasan, a white-bearded man who makes $300 a month doing odd jobs around the capital, said the government wouldn’t give away funds that it didn’t have. “They have hundreds of millions coming in, let them use some of that for good,” he said.
With the US listing Hamas, Gaza’s governing party, as a “terrorist organization” and Karzai’s increasingly public declarations of distrust of Washington’s intentions in Afghanistan, some speculate this donation could be as much political as it is humanitarian.
Faiq Wahidi, deputy spokesperson to Karzai, denied claims that the intention behind the aid was anything but humanitarian. Still, others remain dubious.
One anonymous Afghan journalist working for an international media outlet said that the aid, along with criticism of Israeli actions leading to the mounting civilian deaths in Gaza, was Karzai’s way of solidifying his anti-Israel stance.
Members of the Afghan senate also denounced Israel’s Operation Protective Edge three days before the presidential palace’s pledge on July 16. Following a two-minute silence, Anarkali Hunaryar, a senator representing the nation’s Sikh minority, said the senate “vehemently” denounces the “barbaric attacks … [that] have anguished all human beings.”
'They need the help. They are suffering.'
In a 2005 interview, Karzai said Afghanistan would only consider engaging with Israel once “the Palestinians begin to get a state of their own.”
Yet Karzai's anti-Israel sentiment is in stark contrast to the monarchy that reigned over Afghanistan at the time of the Jewish state's formation.
In 1948, when a large proportion of the Afghan Jewish families chose to immigrate to Israel, Afghanistan was the only Muslim-majority nation not to strip them of their citizenship.
The most stark example of previous Afghan-Israeli ties, however, came during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, when Tel Aviv provided Afghan jihadis with training and armaments in a move facilitated by Pakistan.
'It’s complete madness, when you are receiving aid from other nations how can you expect to help others?'
At the time, Islamabad was in charge of the flow of weapons and money from Washington to Kabul. That connection, of course, has been largely erased from the Afghan psyche.
A majority of Afghans feel a kinship to the Palestinian struggle, but many also wonder if the pledge, coming a day after at least 89 civilians were killed in a suicide bombing targeting a Paktika province market, wasn’t indicative of an obliviousness to Afghanistan’s own struggles.
In what has become a customary move, Karzai promised compensation (along with a full probe into the attack) for the bombing victims.
Mohammad Yousef, a Kabul store owner, wondered why a government that cannot oversee its own affairs would be distributing aid to others. And Mati Baig agrees. “It’s complete madness, when you are receiving aid from other nations how can you expect to help others?” he asked.
Baig said the aid was a decision made in the interest of international, not domestic, affairs. “When your domestic politics are not in order, your international affairs will never be settled,” he said.
This is not the first time, however, that Afghanistan has provided financial support to other nations.
In 2011, Kandahar, the nation’s second-largest city, sent $50,000 to Japan after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people.
A year earlier, the Afghan government, in conjunction with UNICEF, agreed to sent food aid to flood-affected areas of neighboring Pakistan.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) also helped with the rescue efforts for the July 2010 floods in Pakistan that left more than 1,600 people dead. The ANSF has provided similar help to Iranian earthquake victims.
Follow Ali M Latifi on Twitter: @alibomaye