A UN envoy on Thursday urged the world to keep money flowing into Afghanistan despite concerns over the Taliban government, warning the already poor country could otherwise suffer a historic breakdown.
Deborah Lyons, the secretary-general’s special representative on Afghanistan, called on the world at least to give a chance to the victorious Taliban as the Islamist insurgents turn to governance and confront a severe economic decline.
“A modus vivendi must be found – and quickly – that allows money to flow to Afghanistan to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order,” Lyons told a Security Council meeting.
If not, the result would be “a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations.”
She warned that the new Afghan authorities cannot pay salaries and voiced alarm over a storm of crises including a plunging currency, sharply rising food and fuel prices, and a lack of cash at private banks.
Foreign donors led by the United States provided more than 75% of the public expenditure under Afghanistan’s 20-year Western-backed government – and quickly stopped payments as it crumbled last month amid a US military withdrawal.
President Joe Biden’s administration has voiced openness on humanitarian aid but says that any direct economic lifeline, including unfreezing some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets, will be contingent on Taliban actions including allowing safe passage to people to leave.
China, which has quickly moved to work with the Taliban, alleged that US actions have worsened Afghans’ plight.
“These assets belong to Afghanistan and should be used for Afghanistan, not as leverage for threats,” said China’s deputy UN envoy, Geng Shuang.
Lyons, a former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, said that “safeguards must be created to ensure that this money is spent where it needs to be spent and not misused by the de facto authorities.”
But she added, “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender and counterterrorism perspective.”
The UN Development Program said that Afghanistan is already one of the poorest nations, with 72 percent living on no more than one dollar a day.
That figure could soar to 97 percent by mid-2022 due to foreign money drying up and a severe Covid-19 outbreak, said the UN agency’s Asia director, Kanni Wignaraja.
The United Nations plans a pledging conference on Monday for humanitarian assistance, although without the Taliban government – which has not been recognized by any country.
The appeals for support come despite wide concerns over an interim government named Tuesday by the Taliban that includes no women and several ministers on UN watchlists over terrorism allegations.
Lyons said there were “credible allegations” that the Taliban has carried out reprisal killings of security forces despite promises of amnesty.
She also voiced concern over what she said was rising harassment of Afghan staff of the United Nations, although she said the Taliban had largely respected the world body’s premises.
Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by Pakistan’s branch of the Taliban at age 15 for her advocacy of girls’ education, said she was hearing growing cases of Afghan girls and female teachers being told to stay home.
The Nobel laureate urged international pressure on the Taliban, whose 1996-2001 regime severely restricted women’s rights and forbade girls’ education.
World powers should send a “clear and open message” to the Taliban that any working relationship is contingent on girls’ education, she told the Security Council.
“Speaking with one voice for girls’ education can compel the Taliban to make real concessions. This is vital not only for Afghan women and girls themselves but for long-term security in the region and our world,” she said.