UNITED NATIONS (Dispatches) — Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of “universal poverty” that could become a reality in the middle of next year unless urgent efforts are made to bolster local communities and their economies, the United Nations development agency said in a report launched Thursday.
“Afghanistan pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year,” Kanni Wignaraja, UN Development Program (UNDP)’s Asia-Pacific director, told a news conference launching its 28-page assessment. “That’s where we’re heading — it’s 97-98% (poverty rate) no matter how you work these projections.”
Currently, Afghanistan’s poverty rate is 72%.
Wignaraja said Afghanistan now faces “a humanitarian and development disaster” resulting from political instability, frozen foreign reserves, a collapsed public finance system, “a crush on local banking because of this,” as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abdallah Al Dardari, UNDP’s representative in Afghanistan, said that by the time the Taliban took over, “the Afghan population was already on the brink of collapse economically and socially.”
With universal poverty looming, he said, the most important thing is saving livelihoods, which can also save lives.
UN special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, also warned that the freezing of billions of dollars in Afghan assets to keep them out of Taliban hands would inevitably spark “a severe economic downturn” and could push millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger.
She said a way needed to be found to get money quickly flowing to the country “to prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order” and with safeguards to ensure it is not misused by the Taliban.
Lyons told the UN Security Council that Afghanistan could be set “back for generations.”
Much of the Afghan central bank’s $10 billion in assets are parked overseas, where they are considered a key instrument for the West to pressure the Taliban. The U.S. Treasury Department said it is not easing Taliban sanctions or loosening curbs on the group’s access to the global financial system.
The International Monetary Fund has also blocked the Taliban from accessing some $440 million in new emergency reserves.
“The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is simple: any legitimacy and support will have to be earned,” senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council.
Russia and China both argued for the release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets.
“These assets belong to Afghanistan and should be used for Afghanistan, not as leverage for threats or restraints,” China’s deputy UN Ambassador Geng Shuang said.
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne praised the Taliban as “businesslike” and “cooperative” in facilitating the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan.
“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA,” she said in a statement, referring to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport.
“They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort.”
The takeover of Afghanistan followed months of peace talks between the Taliban and the US without the participation of the Afghan government and the sudden withdrawal of American troops from the main Bagram airbase in the dead of the night.
Lyons said there are “credible allegations” that the Taliban perpetrated reprisal killings despite the group’s promises of a general amnesty since their takeover of the war-ravaged county.
She also warned that the Taliban have already “visibly welcomed and sheltered” Al-Qaeda members, and Daesh remains active “and could gain strength.”
The editor of two Afghan journalists said they were detained by the Taliban and beaten in police custody this week after covering a protest by women in Kabul.
Zaki Daryabi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Etilaat Roz newspaper, shared images on social media of two male reporters, one with large, red welts across his lower back and legs and the other with similar marks on his shoulder and arm.
Both men’s faces were also bruised and cut in the pictures.
“Five colleagues were kept in a detention center for more than 4 hours, and during these four hours two of our colleagues were beaten and tortured brutally,” Daryabi told Reuters.
Several journalists have complained of assault since the Taliban returned to power, and some women have said they were not allowed to carry on working in media jobs.
Iran’s permanent representative to the UN on Thursday censured the recent attack against Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley as an “unjustifiable and condemnable fratricide” that runs counter to the position of the international community.
“The recent unjustifiable attack and condemnable fratricide in Panjshir is in contradiction with the united position
of the international community, according to which any government that comes to power in Afghanistan by force will not be recognized,” Majid Takht-Ravanchi said during a United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan.
Takht-Ravanchi said the path to stability, lasting peace and sustainable development in Afghanistan passes through intra-Afghan negotiations with the active participation of representatives of all ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, with the aim of finding a fair and lasting solution to the crisis and achieving national reconciliation.
He underscored the need for the formation of an all-inclusive government through a free and fair election, via the participation of women both as voters and as candidates.
The new government, the Iranian envoy continued, must be committed to the fight against terrorism and organized crimes, as well as the human rights of all Afghans, including minorities, based on the true and authentic teachings and principles of Islam.
Takht-Ravanchi said Iran expects the Taliban to fulfill all of their commitments, stressing that the Islamic Republic would support the Afghan government if they do so.
Like Afghanistan’s other neighbors, Iran is deeply concerned about insecurity and instability in the country, as well as the threat posed by terrorist networks and organized criminals involved in drug and human trafficking, he said.
According to Takht-Ravanchi, the current situation in Afghanistan is first and foremost the result of the U.S. and other countries’ intervention and their irresponsible withdrawal from the country.
On Thursday, foreign ministers from Pakistan, China, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan issued a joint statement after holding a virtual meeting on Afghanistan.
They noted that with the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops from Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan have to determine their own future, which should allow, in practice, to realize an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” process for national peace and reconciliation, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“Terrorist organizations, such as ISIS, al-Qaeda, ETIM, TTP, BLA, Jondollah and others should not be allowed to maintain a foothold on Afghanistan’s territory,” they asserted.
They also agreed to continue their meetings on a rotating basis, to hold their next meeting in Tehran, to set up a mechanism of regular consultations of special envoys for Afghanistan affairs, and to hold regular meetings of representatives of embassies in Kabul to discuss and coordinate their joint efforts.