Written by Alex Cosh
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is being accused of offering “thoughts and prayers” instead of much-needed material aid to the people of Afghanistan as they reel from the impact of a deadly earthquake.
The natural disaster comes at a time when the country is already grappling with an unprecedented hunger crisis.
According to the country’s Taliban-controlled government, the earthquake has killed at least 1,000 people and injured 1,500 others since it struck Paktika province on Tuesday. The country is now appealing for international help in its efforts to rescue survivors from hundreds of destroyed homes.
Afghan government officials have requested the UN to “support them in terms of assessing the needs and responding to those affected.”
The U.K. has already announced that it is “ready to contribute to the international response."
Meanwhile, Minister Joly tweeted:
“My heart is with the people of Afghanistan and Afghan communities everywhere as they deal with the devastation caused by today’s earthquake. We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing humanitarian crisis and we will continue to support the Afghan people.”
As of Thursday, Global Affairs Canada had issued no statement indicating that it was ready to contribute material aid to any UN effort to aid Afghanistan’s earthquake recovery efforts.
Responding to Joly’s tweet, author and political commentator Paris Marx wrote: “Sure we might have invaded your country for over a decade and then left you to starve, but thoughts and prayers for your latest tragedy from one of the richest countries in the world.”
Similarly, Maple contributor and independent journalist Jeremy Appel described Joly’s response as amounting to an offering of “thoughts and prayers."
The expression “thoughts and prayers” is commonly used to criticize public figures and officials who offer condolences to victims of violence or natural disasters as a substitute for meaningful aid.
As reported by CBC News Wednesday, Afghans in Canada want the federal government to step up. Ariana Yaftali, co-founder of the Afghan Canadian Women's Organization, said:
"Canada's made a commitment right at the beginning when the Taliban took over Afghanistan, to bring 40,000 Afghan refugees. We are still seeing that government is moving very slow, still families are there. So any kind of humanitarian support, including bringing them to safety, would be highly appreciated."
Last August, Canada and other Western countries departed Afghanistan in a chaotic withdrawal, after a decade of military operations in the country ended in failure.
Starting in 2001, the stated goal of Canada’s military involvement in the country was to counter al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban government, but, as noted by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute: “The Taliban remains a major actor in the country and Jihadist groups’ influence has increased.”
During Canada’s military intervention, Canadian special forces said they felt they were “encouraged” to commit war crimes. Detainees who were handed over to the Afghan army after being captured by Canadian forces were tortured, including civilians who were unconnected to the Taliban.
As Western military forces and diplomats fled the country last summer, horrifying scenes of desperate Afghan civilians fatally trying to cling onto a moving U.S. warplane prompted searing condemnations of how the evacuation was handled.
As reported by CBC News this month, a recent U.K. parliamentary report made no bones about how poorly the operation was executed, stating: “The international withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a disaster in terms of planning, execution and consequences for the U.K.'s wider interests."
“It was a betrayal of our partners in the country and, worst of all, undermined the security of the United Kingdom by encouraging our enemies to act against us,” it added.
A Canadian parliamentary report offered a less blistering critique of the botched withdrawal, but nonetheless conceded that there were key failures, stating:
“Even if the exact point at which the Taliban's ascendancy became inevitable could not have been predicted with certainty, the Special Committee believes that greater prudence — and, therefore, a more proactive approach — was warranted in response to Afghanistan's clearly worsening trajectory."
Many Afghan refugees who fled the country fearing for their lives say they have been abandoned in a state of purgatory while waiting to be allowed into Canada. As recently as April, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted that Canada was still finding it “difficult” to process refugee applications from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan itself is currently in the midst of a hunger crisis of “unparalleled proportions,” according to Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, deputy special representative of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In March, the UN said 95 per cent of Afghan families had been impacted by the food crisis, pushing the country’s health system to the brink of collapse. By May, almost half the population was still facing acute hunger.
The country’s Ministry of Public Health stated earlier this year that nearly 13,700 newborn babies and 26 mothers had died in 2022 due to a lack of nutrition.
An Afghan woman told Al Jazeera: “There is a visible sense of desperation among millions of Afghans; people are selling their babies and young girls to survive.”
In March, Canada announced $50 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to address the crisis in addition to the $56 million it pledged last December in response to humanitarian appeals from the UN.