China’s top diplomat Thursday urged a virtual conference of G-20 foreign ministers to end economic sanctions against Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to help the country tackle a looming humanitarian crisis and an economic meltdown.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the conference, which took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session, that member states of the G-20 — as the premiere global platform for international economic cooperation — are obligated to play a “constructive role” in helping the South Asian nation.
“All kinds of unilateral sanctions or restrictions on Afghanistan should be lifted,” said Wang.
The Islamist Taliban’s return to power last month prompted the United States to freeze billions of dollars held in its reserve for Kabul while the World Bank and International Monetary Fund both halted Afghanistan’s access to developmental funding.
“Afghanistan's foreign exchange reserves are its national assets and should be owned by and used for the people, rather than being used as a bargaining chip to exert political pressure on Afghanistan,” Wang told the conference, which was focused on the situation in Afghanistan.
The United States and other countries have called on the Taliban to put together an inclusive government that includes respect for human rights, and to desist from bringing back their harsh Islamist rule, before any direct engagement or diplomatic recognition can occur.
“China calls on G-20 members to actively take practical steps to help Afghanistan ease the current liquidity stress,” Wang said. He went on to urge international financial institutions to also provide financing support for the Afghan poverty reduction, sustainable development, livelihood and infrastructure projects.
Wang also called for redoubling efforts and speeding up the provision of humanitarian assistance to address urgent needs of Afghan citizens. He said Beijing has decided to provide around $31 million “worth of related materials" to Kabul, including the donation of COVID-19 vaccine doses.
The Chinese diplomat also renewed his government’s expectations the Taliban caretaker government in Kabul will eventually build into a “broad and inclusive political structure, which respects the basic rights of minority groups, women and children.”
Wang said Afghanistan “must earnestly honor its commitments by making a clean break with and resolutely fighting all kinds of international terrorist forces.”
The Taliban announced this week an expansion in their all-male interim Cabinet, saying all Afghan ethnicities have now been given representation in the government. But they again failed bring any women on board, fueling fears the Islamist movement intends to restrict female participation.
Some of the top Cabinet slots have been given to Taliban leaders who are blacklisted by the U.S. and the U.N., which makes it difficult for Washington and other countries to directly engage with the group.
During their previous rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban barred women and girls from work and public life, and from receiving an education. Taliban officials have promised to give women a role in their government, but they have not yet said when. They've also vowed not to make such changes amid foreign pressure.
But global rights defenders are skeptical about the Taliban’s intentions and are accusing the group of “steadily dismantling” Afghan gains in human rights achieved over the past two decades with the help of the international community.
Pakistan hails Taliban cabinet changes
Pakistan, which shares a nearly 2,600-kilometer border with Afghanistan and has traditionally maintained close ties with the Taliban, reiterated Thursday that ensuing peace and stability in Afghanistan was a “shared responsibly” of the international community.
“We have taken note of the expansion in the interim [Taliban] Cabinet with representation of different ethnic and political groups,” Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Asim Iftikhar told a weekly news conference in Islamabad.
“This is a positive direction, and we hope they continue to take steps leading to lasting stability in the country,” he added.
The Pakistani spokesman said his country continues to urge the world to address “the imperative of constructive engagement and timely mobilization” of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
The World Health Organization warned Wednesday that the Afghan health care system is on the verge of collapse and the nation faces a humanitarian catastrophe without urgent action by the international community.