Do not punish Afghans for Taliban’s mistakes, says UN chief

Published January 23, 2022
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gestures as he attends a news conference at the end of his visit to Lebanon, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 21. — Reuters
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gestures as he attends a news conference at the end of his visit to Lebanon, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 21. — Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary General António Guterres has pledged to continue his ‘discreet diplomacy’ for resolving the Afghan crisis, repeating his appeal for a conditional release of Afghanistan’s frozen funds.

The United States froze nearly $7 billion of Afghan assets in the New York Federal Reserve soon after the Taliban captured Kabul in August 2021. Since then, organizations and individuals in both the United States and Europe have been urging Washington to unfreeze the funds.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives recommended a focused release of humanitarian funds to address the imminent economic and humanitarian disasters facing the people of Afghanistan.

Last month, 40 US lawmakers urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen to release humanitarian aid to prevent an economic collapse in Afghanistan.

But the strongest appeal came from the UN chief who warned that a “nightmare (is) unfolding in Afghanistan” and the world was “in a race against time to help the Afghan people.”

“Babies being sold to feed their siblings. Freezing health facilities overflowing with malnourished children. People burning their possessions to keep warm. Livelihoods across the country have been lost,” Mr Guterres said.

At a Friday afternoon news briefing in New York, a journalist reminded the UN chief that the situation in Afghanistan had further deteriorated and asked him if he were willing to “pick up the phone and talk to the Taliban” to make them do the reforms needed to end the country’s economic blockade. “First of all, it is clear that we have in Afghanistan a serious situation of violations of human rights, and (the conditions for ending the blockade were) not yet met.”

That’s why, he said, the United Nations has “been in constant advocacy with the Taliban to say that it is absolutely essential for them in the context of their objective of recognition but also in the context of their objective of getting international support for their own people.”

Mr Guterres, however, repeated his appeal for not linking the Taliban’s failure with the humanitarian crisis. “Humanitarian aid and the need to avoid … the economic collapse in Afghanistan is something that we have been fighting for, because the people of Afghanistan [are] in an absolute desperate situation,” he said.

“It would be a mistake to submit the people of Afghanistan to a collective punishment just because the de facto authorities are not behaving properly.”

Underlining the need to “separate the two things,” he said: “We will go on with our humanitarian action. We will go on insisting on the need to have liquidity, allowing for the economy not to collapse, for the people not to be in an absolute desperate situation.”

But the United Nations will also “go on insisting with the Taliban on human rights but also on the question of terrorism and on the question of inclusive governance,” he added.

Responding to the suggestion to pick up the phone and call the Taliban, he said: “I intend to go on doing discreet diplomacy, doing active public diplomacy, and speaking out when I believe this is the best way to solve the problems we face.”

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2022

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