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G-20 Leaders Discuss Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan


Culture Ministers of the G-20 take part in a roundtable at the opening of their meeting at the Colosseum on July 29, 2021 in Rome.
Culture Ministers of the G-20 take part in a roundtable at the opening of their meeting at the Colosseum on July 29, 2021 in Rome.

Leaders of the grouping of the world’s 20 largest economies are holding a virtual extraordinary meeting Tuesday on Afghanistan, less than two months after the Taliban took over the country. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who holds the rotating presidency of the G-20, had pressed for the meeting saying Afghanistan is headed for a humanitarian catastrophe.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Tuesday’s closed-door virtual summit on Afghanistan would focus on security, humanitarian aid and human rights in the country. It is being held less than three weeks before the G-20 summit of world leaders to be held in Rome on October 30-31.

Since the Taliban returned to power on August 15, following the U.S. troop withdrawal after two decades of war, there have been growing concerns about the humanitarian situation in the country.

Leaders will hold discussions on how to combat terrorism, how to guarantee freedom of movement, both inside and outside Afghanistan’s borders for Afghans as well as members of nongovernmental organizations, and the condition of women in the country, which Draghi has defined a “priority.”

The Italian prime minister spoke about Afghanistan in a recent interview on Italian state television.

Draghi said that for Italy, the future is about defending fundamental rights, defending the rights of women, and protecting all those who have over the years exposed themselves [to dangerous situations] in order defend these rights in Afghanistan.

A major challenge will be pressing the Taliban on guaranteeing the rights of women, who face discrimination and violence, including their full return to schools and to workplaces and their recognition in political life. Only boys are allowed to attend high school and at present, more than 2 million girls are denied access to education and Afghanistan has one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world, according to the World Bank.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that Afghanistan is facing “a make-or-break moment” as he called on the world to act.

Before the Taliban takeover, international aid accounted for 75% of Afghanistan’s state spending, but governments and international organizations have cut off such funding and frozen Afghanistan’s assets.

Guterres said Monday that banks in Afghanistan are closing and that health care and other essential services have been suspended in many places. He warned the humanitarian crisis, which is affecting half the country’s population, is growing.

“The Afghan people cannot suffer a collective punishment because the Taliban misbehave,” Guterres said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell pledged help Monday, saying at an EU ministerial meeting that the “humanitarian and socioeconomic situation in Afghanistan is on the verge of collapse.”

“Today we agreed on having a calibrated approach to give direct support to the Afghan population in order to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe, while certainly not recognizing the Taliban,” Borrell said. “We will deliver the aid through our multilateral partners while respecting our agreed principles of engagement.”

The summit has been extended to the Netherlands, Spain, Singapore and Qatar, which has played an important role in the Taliban’s dialogue with the West.

Afghanistan’s neighbors Pakistan and Iran were not invited to attend the summit and Chinese media reported President Xi Jinping would not take part. But to maximize involvement, various organizations are also joining, including the United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Afghanistan’s spiraling economy and the need to provide humanitarian support, also to nearby nations taking in refugees, are central to the meeting.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said he has asked for an “increase in funds for cooperation in Afghanistan to help civilians.” He added that everything must be done to avoid the state from collapsing because, he said, “if Afghanistan collapses, we will face uncontrolled migration to nearby nations with subsequent destabilization in the area.”

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.