September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Christina Rocca Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on Near East and South Asian Affairs; October 10, 2001

Christina Rocca,
Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs Testimony
Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee
on Near East and South Asian Affairs

October 10, 2001

Mr. Chairman, distinguished Members of the Subcommitte, it is my privilege to appear before you with Mr. Natsios and Mr. Kreczko to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Andrew and Alan will speak to you on the details of the evolving crisis and the U.S. response. I will be brief, and restrict my remarks to providing an overall political perspective. I will describe for you the context in which this crisis has fermented and grown.

It is important to bear in mind that the humanitarian crisis in the region did not begin on September 11. Its causes lie in the tragic history of Afghanistan over the last two decades. Twenty-two years of conflict have steadily devastated the country, destroyed its physical and political infrastructure, shattered its institutions, and wrecked its socio-economic fabric. The crisis has been exacerbated by a severe and prolonged drought, now in its fourth year. Average life expectancy in Afghanistan has been reduced to 46 years; according to the World Health Organization, the infant mortality rate at birth is 152 per 1,000 births; the mortality rate for children under 5 is 257 per 1,000.

The Taliban have done nothing to alleviate the suffering of the Afghan people. Rather, they have done much to intensify the anguish of Afghans by pursuing policies that victimize their own people, and that target women and girls and ethnic minorities. The Taliban have shown no desire to provide even the most rudimentary health, education, and other social services expected of any government. Instead, they have chosen to devote their resources to waging war on the Afghan people, and exporting instability to their neighbors. Instead, they have welcomed terrorists, provided them with safe haven and allowed Afghanistan to become the hub of international terrorism.

In contrast, the United States has been the largest provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghans. As the President has said, our quarrel is not with the Afghan people. Quite the opposite. President Bush announced last week a package of $320 million in humanitarian assistance for Afghans. This brings our food and nonfood assistance to about $680 million since 1999. As the United States began military action this weekend against terrorist and Taliban defense sites in Afghanistan, the military air dropped tens of thousand of humanitarian assistance packages for the Afghan victims of this humanitarian crisis. Mr. Chairman, the United States has played its role in helping ease the suffering of the Afghan people.

Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the U.N. predicted that the situation will deteriorate even further. The U.N. anticipates 5-7 million people will be at risk of famine, and that there will be further large scale displacements of Afghans. Once again, we need to be clear. The blame for this lies squarely on the Taliban. Their failure to comply with the international community's demands -- to hand over Usama bin Laden and his lieutenants, to close down the terrorist training camps, and to release the foreign aid workers -- has resulted in further suffering for the Afghan people. They have continually obstructed the delivery of humanitarian assistance by U.N. and other international agencies. The Taliban and the foreign terrorists they harbor bear responsibility for the political decay, economic devastation, and international isolation of what was once a proud, tolerant, and fiercely independent land.

Immediate US humanitarian efforts have been directed at getting as much humanitarian assistance as possible into Afghanistan before the onset of winter. AID Director Natsios will elaborate on our efforts and those of the World Food Program to feed the Afghan people. We are also preparing for the possible flow of refugees into neighboring countries. Acting Assistant Secretary Kreczko will elaborate on the refugee situation. There are already over 3 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran. The U.N. estimates there will be hundreds of thousands more as a result of the current tensions. Most of these refugees are expected to come to Pakistan. We also expect smaller movement to Iran and other Central Asian countries bordering Afghanistan. To minimize displacement of people we will provide assistance inside Afghanistan to the extent possible. However, we are also urging all neighboring countries to allow entry to fleeing refugees.

Let me note that Pakistan has been a generous country of first asylum for millions of Afghans since 1979. We acknowledge that Pakistan has borne a heavy social and economic cost for its generosity. It has legitimate political and security concerns as a result of large scale refugee inflows. Yet, Pakistan has given its unconditional cooperation to the international community in combating terrorism. We will work with Pakistan and U.N. agencies to help Pakistan shoulder the economic and social costs of the current crisis. We have already lifted many of the sanctions, and are now assembling a package of economic assistance for Pakistan. Iran, too, has also been traditional host to many Afghan refugees. We will work through UN agencies and others to make sure that resources are available for Afghans in Iran.

President Bush has taken the lead in responding to the Afghan humanitarian crisis, but other countries are also pledging to do their share. The UN has estimated that $584 million will be required to meet humanitarian needs over the next six months. This past weekend in Geneva, the United States and major donor countries pledged more than $600 million in response to the humanitarian crises.

Finally, let me refer to President Bush's radio address this weekend. He raised the prospects of a future reconstruction and development package for Afghanistan. We are beginning discussions with other potential donors, international financial institutions, and the U.N. to examine what the reconstruction needs will be for a future Afghanistan. We hope the internal situation in Afghanistan will stabilize so we can move forward on such a program. Thank you.

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