By: Lubna Hassan Heikal, MPAC Policy Intern
This week, MPAC partnered with the Afghan-American Foundation (AAF) to host a four-day virtual summit, Empowering Afghans: Reframing the Narrative and Providing Support. The summit, featuring Afghan leaders, discussed key issues related to the crisis in Afghanistan and its impact on the United States. Our hope was to identify tangible solutions and highlight organizations doing critical response work in the United States and Afghanistan.
The first panel, A Moment to Act: the Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan, touched on the 2021 withdrawal and the aftermath of policies that exacerbated existing vulnerabilities in the country. Afghanistan has been crippling under the overwhelming weight of humanitarian crisis, political violence and instability, and a pandemic. Haris Tarin, Senior Policy Advisor at the Department of Homeland Security and moderator of our panel, emphasized the need to shift the narrative from the lens of counterterrorism to a community-centered approach. Other panelists, including Ilaha Omar and Dr. Ali Sultan, shared their personal experiences to support the people of Afghanistan during one of the worst humanitarian crises of all time. The overarching consensus amongst the panelists was this: politics is intertwined with the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. We need to understand the nuances of the situation in Afghanistan to develop holistic solutions to the conflict. As allies, we must support initiatives that reclaim the ecosystem and stop the cycle that continues to punish a war-stricken country and its people.
Resettlement Challenges and Opportunities: Afghan American Perspectives on the following day highlighted the work of Afghan American-led organizations and conveyed some of the challenges they face on the ground resettling Afghans in local communities across the country. The panel was led and moderated by five Afghan-American women, Zainab Nazary, Freshta Taeb, Nillab Pazhwak, Nagwa Ibrahim, and Farhat Popal. Each comes from a diverse group of organizations focused on of the resettlement process, including immigration status, mental health, and human trafficking. In order to ensure every individual has the chance to thrive in their new home, we as American Muslims and as American advocates must work collectively to provide the necessary resources and funding to the Afghan community and its leaders.
Day three focused on the topic of Foreign Policy and Domestic Pragmatism: The Road Ahead. Mir Sadat of the Atlantic Council and Nazila Jamshid of Human Rights and Foreign Policy at Columbia University shared their expert opinion on the complex path of creating foriegn policy under this new reality in Afghanistan. It is crucial to contemplate what the future holds for policy in Afghanistan, including conversations about parties, like the Taliban who have assumed control in Kabul. Moderator Joseph Azam of the AAF spoke on the need to act for all stakeholders, to make sure the people and their values are not left behind.
The summit closed out with: The Challenges and Opportunities around Building Afghan and Afghan-American Narratives moderated by Madina Wardak, Founder of Burqas & Beer. For decades, the language of war, the dehumanization of Afghan bodies, and the harmful stereotypes of Afghanistan and Afghans flooded mainstream media. However, panelists Ali Baluch, Filmmaker and producer at MTV, Ariana Delawari, Multi-media Artist, and Azeta Hatef, Assistant Professor of Journalism Studies at Emerson College, emphasized the importance of reclaiming the narrative and making space for their history, their experiences, and their identities in the creative space.
Recordings of the summit are available here.