Top UN diplomat in Afghanistan bats for aid to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

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    Top UN diplomat in Afghanistan bats for aid to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan

    Deborah Lyons, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, lobbied for deepening engagement with the war-torn country’s new authorities and action to prevent an irreversible economic collapse.

    In her briefing to the UN security council in New York on Wednesday, Deborah Lyons, the UN secretary general’s special representative for Afghanistan spoke for engagement with the Taliban.

    Suggesting that the Taliban feels misunderstood, Lyons, a career diplomat from Canada, said that the Taliban cite reduced corruption and the re-opening of schools to girls and boys. “This clash of perspectives forms the basis of a serious distrust that must be addressed,” said the Special Representative.

    According to her briefing, it is now clear that truly assisting the Afghan people will be all but impossible without working with the de facto Taliban authorities.

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    Acknowledging the enduring distrust between the Taliban and much of the international community, Lyons said the group feels misunderstood. She said that the Taliban leadership complains that international reports “do not reflect reality as they see it”.

    Civilian casualties in the war-torn country have declined by 78 per cent since the previous government was ousted, the Taliban have claimed, implying that the country is more secure. The Taliban want acknowledgement for this, Lyons said.

    But she also cautioned that more needed to be done and mitigation has to be accompanied with giving hope to the Afghan people by preparing a strong foundation for Afghan self-reliance.

    “It is imperative that we not find ourselves six months from now in the situation we faced six months ago: with millions of Afghans facing another winter of starvation and the only tool at our disposal being expensive and unsustainable humanitarian handouts,” her briefing to the security council reads.

    Dire economy

    In the six months since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, Afghanistan faces an economic collapse.

    “Six months of indecision … are eroding vital social and economic coping systems and pushing the population into greater uncertainty,” she said, adding that, “As the winter season comes to an end, we have perhaps averted our worst fears of famine and widespread starvation.”

    A looming economic tipping point awaits Afghanistan. In such an even, more businesses will close, more people will be unemployed and more families will fall into poverty. Lyons cited a cessation of all development assistance and restrictions on international payments, as well as lack of access to hard currency reserves, lack of liquidity and constraints on the Afghan central bank to carry out some of its core functions.

    Welcoming the unfreezing of some of Afghanistan’s assets by the US treasury facilitating commercial and financial activity and allowing work with all governing institutions, as a “huge step forward”, she said that there were yet other challenges to reviving the economy that has been in freefall mode.
    ”These [challenges] include the collapse of demand due to cessation of all development assistance, restrictions on international payments, lack of access to hard currency reserves, lack of liquidity, and constraints on the central bank to carry out some of its core functions,” she said.
    While UNAMA has taken all conceivable measures to inject liquidity into the economy, including the physical import of cash, she stressed that more international action is needed.
    Lyons has consistently supported the provision of money from the US treasury. Even in her briefing to the security council on 9 September, she had stressed that “a modus vivendi must be found, and quickly, that allows money to flow to Afghanistan to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order.”
    Of course, she had also said that, “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.”
    Complicated situation

    For its part, she said, UNAMA, continues to report on what it sees on the ground, including concerning restrictions on fundamental rights, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.

    Describing the country’s situation as complicated – with both positive and negative trends occurring simultaneously – she said UNAMA can do more by working with the Taliban on the main issues facing Afghan society.
    “You are about to approach a critical moment in your relationship with Afghanistan,” she warned, noting that the security council has the opportunity to build a more solid and relevant UN Mission that will avert the country’s further collapse.


    Image: Mark Garten / UN

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