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UN Chief Urges Taliban to Protect Afghan Lives

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United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the U.N. Security Council regarding the situation in Afghanistan, at the United Nations in New York City, Aug. 16, 2021.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Monday that the “world is watching” Afghanistan during these “pivotal” days, as he called on the Taliban to exercise “utmost restraint” to protect Afghan lives and allow humanitarian assistance to reach those in need.

“We cannot and must not abandon the people of Afghanistan,” Guterres told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council, a day after President Ashraf Ghani’s government collapsed in the face of the Taliban takeover that has thrown the country into chaos.

Some 18 million people – half the population -- were in need of humanitarian assistance before the situation unraveled. Fears are growing of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

“The United Nations presence will adapt to the security situation,” Guterres pledged. “But above all, we will stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need.”

The U.N. chief also said the Taliban must protect “the hard-won rights of Afghan women and girls,” and stressed that the country must not again be allowed to become a haven or platform for terrorists.

The U.N. also expressed concern for the country’s children. A new report says the number of children killed and maimed in the first half of this year was the highest ever recorded by the U.N. in the country.

Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador, who took up his post only one month ago, appealed to the international community to not waste time playing a “blame game” and to call for a cessation of hostilities, for neighboring countries to keep their borders open to help those trying to flee, and for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for evacuating those at risk of retribution or attack.

Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai also asked the council and the United Nations not to “recognize any administration that achieves power through force or any government that is not inclusive and representative of the diversity of the country.” He also urged nations to “unequivocally state” that they do not recognize the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.

Protecting Afghan women and girls

In a statement agreed by all 15 members, the Security Council called for the immediate cessation of all hostilities and “the establishment, through inclusive negotiations, of a new government that is united, inclusive and representative – including with the full, equal and meaningful participation of women.”

A Taliban fighter mans a machine gun on top of a vehicle as members of the insurgent group patrol along a street in Kabul, Aug. 16, 2021.
A Taliban fighter mans a machine gun on top of a vehicle as members of the insurgent group patrol along a street in Kabul, Aug. 16, 2021.

Most council members focused their remarks on protecting Afghan civilians and preserving gains made over the past 20 years, particularly on the rights of women and girls.

“Women of Afghanistan – we hear you and we hear your pleas to the international community at this dark time,” Ireland’s Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason said, addressing the country’s women directly. “The fear, indignation and sense of betrayal you feel is understood and righteous.”

She called on the council to stand with Afghan women, saying their rights and future participation in society could not be sacrificed.

U.S. envoy Linda Thomas-Greenfield also called for the respect of women’s rights and for the protection of all civilians.

“We also call on all parties to prevent terrorism, and we must all ensure Afghanistan cannot ever, ever again be a base for terrorism,” she said.

Russia, China, Pakistan react

Russia and China appeared to take a softer tone on the Taliban.

“There is no point in panicking,” said Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. “The main point is that a widespread bloodbath among civilians has been avoided.”

He said Moscow’s embassy in Kabul would continue to operate as normal.

“As regards our future official steps regarding the Taliban, we will interact with them irrespective of the evolving situation and their specific actions,” Nebenzia said.

“The situation in Afghanistan has undergone major changes,” China’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador Geng Shuang told the council. “We respect the will and choices of the Afghan people.”

Pakistan’s U.N. ambassador told reporters after the meeting that his government is making “active efforts” to promote an inclusive political settlement in Afghanistan. He said a number of non-Pashtun political parties and groups met with his foreign minister Monday in Islamabad.

“They have promised to engage continuously with the Taliban and to try to evolve an inclusive Afghan government,” Ambassador Munir Akram said. “Pakistan will work with them and Taliban representatives to advance this objective.”

At the same time, he questioned the right of the Afghan ambassador to participate in the meeting, saying he is the “representative of a now defunct regime.”

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