WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has identified Pakistan as one of the partners the United States has been working with to persuade the Taliban to let girls go back to school.

On Thursday, Secretary Blinken launched the US-Af­ghan Consultative Mecha­nism (USACM), which would enable Afghan citizens to communicate directly with American policymakers.

Addressing the launching ceremony, the top US diplomat said that besides Pakistan, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, Qatar and Turkey, and others were also backing US efforts to convince the Taliban to reverse their decision to keep Afghan girls out of school.

The new platform — USACM — that was launched in Washington on Thursday brings together Afghan women, journalists, and at-risk ethnic and religious communities with the representatives of the US State Department. It will facilitate regular engagement with the US government on issues ranging from human rights documentation to women in Islam.

Kabul, Washington discuss possible release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets

With USACM’s launch, “we are taking these relationships to the next level. That’s why I’m so pleased about today,” Secretary Blinken said.  He identified the group’s priorities as supporting income-generating activities for Afghan women, strategising ways to help Afghan human rights monitors safely document abuses, and devising new methods to promote religious freedom.

Afghan assets

The United States has discussed with Taliban officials the possible release of Afghan central bank’s assets frozen after the fall of Kabul in August last year, the US State Department confirmed on Friday.

“The two sides discussed ongoing efforts to enable the $3.5 billion in licensed Afghan central bank reserves to be used for the benefit of the Afghan people,” said an official statement released in Washington.

“The United States expressed the need to address the urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan” and also “underscored the need to accelerate the work on these efforts,” the statement added.

The meeting, involving Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson, took place on Wednesday in Tashkent. The meetings took place after the conclusion of the Tashkent Conference on Afghanistan that Uzbekistan hosted on July 26.

Media reports on the meeting claimed that the talks had made “some progress” and the US and Taliban officials had exchanged proposals for unfreezing the assets. But some differences remained unresolved.

One of the key differences was over the Taliban’s refusal to replace the bank’s top political appointees, “one of whom is under US sanctions as are several of the movement’s leaders,” one of the reports added.

Published in Dawn, July 30th, 2022

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