Islamic countries formally launched Monday a trust fund to help ease the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan where millions of people face hunger and poverty.
The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), headquartered in Saudi Arabia, signed the charter of what is called the Afghanistan Humanitarian Trust Fund (AHTF) at a ceremony hosted by Pakistan.
OIC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha stressed in a post-signing brief statement that Afghans have been “enduring very difficult times since the change in regime in Kabul." He referred to the Taliban takeover of the war-ravaged country last August.
“Our trust fund … aims to support the Afghan people,” Taha said. “I will conclude by making a call for all the member states of OIC, all the stakeholders, to participate and to contribute to this fund.”
The decision to establish the fund was taken during the emergency OIC meeting in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, in December on how to help address the unfolding catastrophe in Afghanistan.
Officials said the AHTF charter allows donations both from within and outside the OIC system.
“In view of the emergency nature of the needs, we are committed to expeditiously disperse the funds mobilized by the OIC,” said IsDB President Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Jasser, speaking alongside Taha.
He explained that his bank, in coordination with the United Nations and other international organizations, will work toward implementing a “comprehensive phased approach” to promote self-reliance, long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.
“This can be achieved by enhancing agriculture productivity to promote food security, supporting small and medium enterprises to create local employment opportunities and ensuring access to quality education, especially for females,” he said,
Al-Jasser also stressed the need for focusing on Afghan women and youth empowerment. The IsDB is a multilateral development finance institution, and there are 57 shareholding member states, with Saudi Arabia being the largest single shareholder.
Nearly two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population — about 23 million people — need urgent humanitarian assistance. That’s up 30% from one year ago. The World Food Program says 9 million Afghans are just one step away from famine.
The Taliban’s seizure of power and the withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces led to an immediate suspension of international financial assistance to the aid-dependent country.
Billions of dollars in Afghan central bank assets, mostly held in the U.S., have also been frozen. The freezing of Afghan assets and imposition of banking sanctions, aid groups say, have worsened the country’s humanitarian crisis, stemming from years of war and persistent drought.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who oversaw the signing event, said the trust fund will “serve as a vehicle” to collectively galvanize and channel international relief assistance to the Afghan people.
“We all must try our utmost to make this a resounding success. In the wake of a humanitarian crisis, the Afghan people need our urgent attention. We must not fail them,” Qureshi stressed.
No country has yet recognized the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.
The international community is demanding the Islamist group ensure respect for human rights, particularly those of women, govern the country with an inclusive administration and prevent terrorist groups from using Afghan soil for cross-border attacks.
Monday’s launch of the trust fund came a day before OIC foreign ministers and senior dignitaries are set to meet in Islamabad for two days of wide-ranging discussions,
Pakistani officials said delegates at Tuesday’s 48th session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers will discuss “opportunities and challenges” facing the Muslim world “in the political, security, social and economic spheres.” The situation in Afghanistan will also be at the top of the agenda, they added.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has also arrived in Islamabad to attend the meeting as a special guest, while senior officials from non-OIC countries, envoys from the United Nations, regional and international organizations, including the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, will also participate.
Wang’s participation and address to the OIC-led meeting will mark the first time in the history of the organization that a Chinese leader will partake in it, Qureshi said in a statement.