The United Nations’ top official in Afghanistan said Thursday that billions of dollars in assets and donor funds frozen by members of the international community present a “looming crisis” for the country, which is in a dire humanitarian and economic situation.”The understandable purpose is to deny these funds to the de facto Taliban administration,” Deborah Lyons, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told a meeting of the Security Council.”The inevitable effect, however, will be a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations,” she said.Lyons said a way must quickly be found to allow money to flow into the country to prevent the total breakdown of the economy and social order.The U.N. warned Thursday, in an economic report, that Afghanistan is on the brink of universal poverty, with as much as 97% of the population at risk of falling below the poverty line.”Safeguards must be created to ensure that this money is spent where it needs to be spent and not misused by the de facto authorities,” Lyons cautioned. “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender and counterterrorism perspective.”Earlier this week, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths met with a delegation of Taliban leaders, led by co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Afghanistan. Griffiths said the Taliban had assured him that aid workers could continue their work helping half the country’s people.Baradar “did add that the rights of people in Afghanistan were subject to the culture of Afghanistan,” Griffiths said.On Tuesday, the Taliban announced their interim government made up of 33 men, several of whom are on a U.N. sanctions list, including the Taliban prime minister and foreign minister. No women have been designated to serve in their government, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was missing from the announced list.Taliban soldiers stand guard over surrendered Afghan Militiamen in the Kapisa province northeast of Afghanistan, Sept. 8, 2021.Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, was appointed to his position by the government of former President Ashraf Ghani. He still holds the seat at the United Nations and continues to speak out against the Taliban, urging states to withhold recognition of any government that is not inclusive and based on the will of the people.”The council must use all its diplomatic tools, including the full implementation of existing multilateral sanctions, to make the Taliban engage in sincere and genuine talks for a comprehensive settlement,” Isaczai said.The U.S. envoy addressed some of his remarks directly to the Taliban.”If a new Afghan government upholds its commitments and obligations, brings greater stability to the country and region, demonstrates real inclusion, and protects the gains of the past two decades, we will work with it,” Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said.But he warned that Washington would not engage purely on trust.”The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is simple: Any legitimacy and support will have to be earned,” he said.Engagement may largely depend on how the Taliban treat women and girls. During their rule from 1996 to 2001, they imposed severe restrictions on females, including preventing their getting an education or working.Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban when she was 15 for advocating for the right of girls to go to school, told the council via a video link that they must protect Afghan girls and women.”Statements are not sufficient,” she said. “The Taliban government must guarantee and protect the rights of women and girls.”The Taliban have stated recently that they would uphold women’s rights in accordance with Islamic law, but what that would look like is not clear.The mandate of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) will expire Sept. 17. Norway and Estonia hold the file on the council and have presented a draft resolution to members for discussion.”We believe that UNAMA’s work to facilitate humanitarian access, monitor and report on human rights, strengthen the protection of civilians, including children, and support women’s participation is more important than ever,” Estonian Ambassador Sven Jurgenson told reporters.Diplomats say a technical extension of the current mandate of up to six months is likely until there is a better sense of what engagement with a Taliban government might look like.  

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