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UN Chief Urges World to Prevent Afghan Economic Collapse

FILE - Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2021.
FILE - Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2021.

The U.N. secretary-general appealed Monday for urgent international support to prevent the collapse of Afghanistan’s economy, a day ahead of a summit of G20 leaders on the situation in that country.

“This is a make-or-break moment,” Antonio Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

He said that while the United Nations is working to assist the 18 million Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance, it will not be enough to prevent a bigger crisis if the economy fails.

“I urge the world to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse,” he said.

He said the international community is moving too slowly on this issue, and that cash can be injected without violating international laws or compromising principles, including through non-governmental organizations and the United Nations – bypassing the Taliban.

“One thing that for me is clear: the Afghan people cannot suffer a collective punishment because the Taliban misbehaved,” he said. “People should not die of hunger in any circumstance.”

Afghanistan’s economy was already in trouble before the Taliban took over the government on August 15, but their arrival has further strained it, as nations hesitant to deal with them have halted development aid and frozen the government’s foreign assets.

The secretary-general underscored that it is now the Taliban’s responsibility to find “a way back from the abyss”, but in the meantime, the economy has to be able to “breathe again.”

The G20, under the chairmanship of Italy, will convene virtually on Tuesday for a special session to discuss political and humanitarian issues related to the country. Guterres is scheduled to address the summit.

He warned that without economic action, desperation could lead to a new migration crisis.

“Without food, without jobs, without their rights protected, we will see more and more Afghans fleeing their homes in search of a better life,” he warned.

He said the export of illicit drugs – Afghanistan is the world’s top cultivator of opium poppy -- as well as criminal and terrorist networks, would likely increase in such a scenario.

“This will not only badly affect Afghanistan itself, but also the region and the rest of the world,” he warned.

The U.N. chief said the world body continues to engage with the Taliban in order to gain humanitarian access. Guterres said they have been cooperative and “progressively granted access” to areas, as well as provide security to aid workers when needed.

But he expressed concern that the group has broken commitments on respecting the rights of women and girls.

“Broken promises lead to broken dreams for the women and girls of Afghanistan,” he said. “I strongly appeal to the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

He said results have been slow.

“Engagement is daily work,” he said of U.N. discussions with the Taliban on this issue. “We might have difficulties, we might fail here and there, but one thing I can promise is we will not give up.”