Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban assured a special meeting of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Sunday that they will do more to enhance national political inclusivity and promote human rights, including those of women, in the country. 

 

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi spoke in Pakistan at the day-long OIC-convened huddle, which included delegates from the United States, China, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

It was the biggest international gathering on helping Afghanistan to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe since the Taliban seized power from the Western-backed government in August following a U.S.-led foreign troop exit from the country after 20 years.

 

“We stand ready, as a member of a single family, to listen to and accept all requests, concerns and advice of Islamic countries in relation to Afghanistan that can lead towards a proper and just roadmap and direct us out of the current crisis,” Muttaqi said.

“We consider human rights, women’s rights and participation by all capable Afghans from various regions our duty. We have done much in this regard and will continue to take further steps,” he added.

 

The chief Taliban diplomat renewed his government’s counterterrorism assurances, saying no one would be allowed to use Afghan soil against any country. 

 

Washington and Western allies have blocked the Taliban’s access to some $9.5 billion in Afghan assets, mostly held in the U.S. Federal Reserve, imposed financial sanctions and halted non-humanitarian assistance to the war-ravaged country’s largely foreign aid-dependent economy.

 

Muttaqi again demanded the unfreezing of assets and removal of sanctions, saying they “have led to health, education and social services teetering on the brink; all of this has only harmed the general public.” 

 

The U.S. and other countries have cited concerns about terrorism and waning human rights, especially those of women, for refusing to directly engage with the Taliban. Those concerns stem partly from the previous Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, when girls were prevented from receiving an education, and women from leaving home unless accompanied by a close male relative. 

 

Taliban leaders repeatedly have promised their new administration will not bring back the harsh policies of their previous rule. But most Afghan girls across the country are still not allowed to return to school and most female government employees have been barred from resuming their professional duties.

 

The Islamist group has not yet inducted a single woman in the Cabinet since announcing its government in September.

 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, while inaugurating the OIC summit, warned that the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Afghanistan could turn into “the biggest man-made crisis” unless the world urgently takes remedial steps. He called for the U.S. to unconditionally end sanctions on Kabul and unfreeze the assets in favor of facilitating humanitarian assistance to Afghans. 

 

“I speak to the United States specifically; they must delink the Taliban government from the 40 million Afghan citizens even if they have been in conflict with the Taliban for 20 years,” the Pakistani leader said. “But this is a question of the people of Afghanistan, 40 million human beings.” 

 

“Unless action is taken immediately, Afghanistan is heading for chaos…But chaos suits no one. It certainly does not suit the United States,” Khan said. He added that chaos would benefit transnational terrorists linked to Islamic State and would mean more refugees heading toward Pakistan, which already hosts 3 million Afghan refugees. 

 

The frozen assets and abrupt suspension of aid are said to have exacerbated Afghan economic upheavals and increased humanitarian needs in the country where U.N. officials say 23 million people are already facing hunger due to years of war, a severe drought and high levels of poverty. 

 

The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, Thomas West, who attended the summit, described it as a “timely and important initiative” in a tweet after landing in Islamabad on Saturday. 

 

“While we continue clear-eyed diplomacy with the Taliban – on human rights, terrorism, and educational access, among many other issues – the Afghan people will remain at the center of our considerations,” West wrote. 

 

The sanctions and the lack of diplomatic recognition of the Taliban government in Kabul have disrupted the Afghan banking system, undermining delivery of urgently needed humanitarian aid to those who urgently need it. Diplomats acknowledge facing the delicate task of channeling aid to the crisis-hit Afghan economy without also propping up the hardline Islamists. 

 

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths reiterated those concerns while addressing Sunday’s conference in Pakistan. 

 

“Afghanistan’s economy is now in free fall, and that if we do not act decisively and with compassion, I fear that this fall will pull down the entire population with it,” Griffiths warned. 

 

Griffiths said health facilities are overflowing with malnourished children, some 70 percent of teachers are not getting paid and millions of Afghan children are out of school, noting that prices of key commodities continue to rise.

 

The cost of wheat and fuel are up by around 40 percent and food now accounts for more than 80 percent of the average household expenditure. 

 

Griffiths underscored the importance of “continued constructive engagement” with the Taliban government “in a process of meaningful dialogue to clarify what we expect of each other.”

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