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UN chief pleads for 'lifeline' for Afghanistan, engagement with Taliban

Antonio Guterres
(Photo: AFP)
KABUL — UN chief Antonio Guterres on Monday urged the international community to engage with the Taliban and to provide a "lifeline" of desperately needed aid to Afghans, as the first foreign commercial flight left Kabul, a hopeful sign for those trying to leave.اضافة اعلان

Guterres was in Geneva to host a donor conference aimed at raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the violence-torn country, which was taken over by the Taliban nearly a month ago in a lightning offensive that took retreating US troops by surprise.

The UN secretary-general said he believed aid could be used as leverage with the Islamist extremists to exact improvements on human rights, amid fears of a return to the brutal rule that characterized the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

"It is impossible to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan without engaging with the de facto authorities," Guterres told ministers attending the talks.

"It is very important to engage with the Taliban at the present moment."
Guterres urged nations to "find ways to allow for an injection of cash in the Afghan economy" in order to avert an outright collapse that would have "devastating consequences for Afghanistan and the wider region.

"I don't think that if the de facto authorities of a country misbehave, the solution is to do a collective punishment to their people," he said.

'Dismayed' 

Monday's conference, aimed at raising more than $600 million to fulfil the UN's flash appeal, had raised some $1.1 billion in pledges of various types of support for Afghanistan and its neighbors by the time half the speakers had been heard.

But Guterres said it remained unclear how much of that would go towards the UN appeal, which was launched amid fears that malnutrition is looming for many, and perhaps even starvation, with mass displacement in the country and winter coming.

The Taliban have promised a milder form of rule this time, but have moved swiftly to crush dissent, including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to education and work.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet criticized their new interim government, saying she was "dismayed by the lack of inclusivity of the so-called caretaker cabinet, which includes no women and few non-Pashtuns".

She added there was "well-founded" information showing the Taliban had gone against their commitment to a more moderate brand of government, pointing in particular to "credible allegations of reprisal killings" of former Afghan security forces.

'I am sad and happy'

With the fear of reprisals rife in Kabul, many still want to flee the country, and the departure from the capital on Monday of the first international commercial flight since the Taliban takeover offered them a glimmer of hope.

A Pakistan International Airlines jet landed in Kabul before making a return flight to Islamabad with about 70 people on board — mostly Afghans who were relatives of staffers with international organizations, according to airport ground staff.

"I am being evacuated. My final destination is Tajikistan," said a 35-year-old World Bank evacuee, who did not want to give her name.

"I will come back here only if the situation allows women to work and move freely."

A 22-year-old university student said he was taking a one-month trip to Pakistan.

"It's like a vacation. I am sad and happy. Sad about the country, but happy to leave for some time," he said.

'Big moment' 

Kabul's international airport was trashed after US-led forces finished a chaotic evacuation of more than 120,000 people, and the Taliban have since scrambled to get it operational with technical assistance from Qatar and other nations.

Many NATO nations admitted that they had run out of time to evacuate thousands of at-risk Afghans before the withdrawal deadline — agreed between the United States and the Taliban. 

Those Afghans fear reprisals for helping foreign powers during the 20-year US-led occupation, but the Taliban insist they have granted a general amnesty to everyone — including the security forces they fought against.

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