September 28. 2021. 5:02

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Taliban reassure UN over safety of humanitarian workers in Afghanistan

Taliban fighters patrol along a street in Kabul on September 13th, 2021. Photograph: Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty


The Taliban, facing the imminent collapse of humanitarian aid into Afghanistan, have given the UN written assurances on the safe passage and freedom of movement for humanitarian workers, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, has told a UN emergency fundraising conference in Geneva.

The conference raised an extra $1.1 billion in funds, but some of it will go to countries bordering Afghanistan.

UN officials said medical supplies were on the verge of collapse inside the country and that migrations into the cities was continuing.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, told the meeting Afghanistan was perhaps at its most perilous hour, largely due to the country’s previous dependence on western, mainly American, aid flows. “The people of Afghanistan are facing the collapse of an entire country all at once.”

He said food could run out by the end of this month, and the World Food Programme said 14 million people were on the brink of starvation. He said it is “very important to engage with the Taliban at the present moment”, urging the international community to “find ways to allow for an injection of cash into the Afghan economy”.

Assurances

In a sign of the Taliban’s need for international support, Mr Griffiths was able to read out Taliban assurances that aid agencies would be able to operate independently of the government, their safety preserved, and agencies would be free to employ women.

The assurances were given in the name of the Afghan deputy prime minister, and follow talks Mr Griffiths held with the Taliban leadership last week in Kabul.

One Taliban assurance stated: “We have made it clear in all public forums that we are committed to all rights of women, rights of minorities and principles of freedom of expression in the light of religion and culture, therefore we once again reiterate our commitment and will gradually take concrete steps with the help of the international community.”

The assurances can at least act as a benchmark against which the Taliban can be tested, UN officials said.

But the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed her scepticism, saying she was profoundly alarmed by the escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and called for a dedicated investigatory mechanism to monitor developments there.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has so far not set up such a mechanism, an omission that has been criticised by aid groups and human rights bodies.

Ms Bachelet also repeated her criticism of the Taliban’s human rights record since seizing power in Afghanistan, noting that their stated commitments did not match realities on the ground, particularly in regard to the status of women.

“Importantly, and in contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she told the HRC in Geneva.

She also expressed dismay at the composition of the Taliban’s new government, noting the absence of women and its dominance by ethnic Pashtuns. She said the civil service was also being changed by the Taliban, while credible reports of reprisal killings also existed.

‘Words are not enough’

In Qatar, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said France and the rest of the international community would continue pressing the Taliban not to harbour terrorists, to allow the secure delivery of humanitarian aid, and to protect the rights of women, among other demands.

“We have heard the statements made [by the Taliban], though we are waiting for actions,” Mr Le Drian told reporters. “Words are not enough.”

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, announced a further $64 million in aid, but warned: “Aid agencies cannot do their job unless the Taliban uphold their promises. All aid operations need to be independently monitored, reported upon and be secure.” She added that reports of Taliban interference were “frightening, unacceptable and destabilising”.

About a third of the $606 million being sought by the UN would be used by the UN World Food Programme, which found that 93 per cent of the 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient food, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.

“It’s now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most,” said WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb. “We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out.” – Guardian