Taliban economic conference in Kabul highlights need for funds

KABUL, Afghanistan – Five months into their rule of Afghanistan, the Taliban have increased revenue, cracked down on corruption and collected a startling $1 billion in exports, the UN representative for the country said on Wednesday. country.

Meanwhile, Deborah Lyons, head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, stressed the need for the Taliban to be inclusive and to guarantee the rights of minorities and women. “An economy only thrives when women and all segments of a society are equal participants,” she warned.

Lyons spoke at a one-day economic conference organized by the Taliban – their first such event, held at a time when Afghanistan is on the brink of humanitarian catastrophe and economic collapse.

Kabul’s assets abroad, mostly in the United States, were frozen after the Taliban invaded the country in mid-August. The international community has been reluctant to officially recognize a Taliban government, fearing it could impose some of the same harsh measures as under their previous rule 20 years ago.

The downward spiral has thrown more than half a million people out of work, according to a report by the International Labor Organization released on Wednesday. Women have been hardest hit by rising unemployment. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat as thousands of Afghans flee the country every day, the report said, warning of a bleaker outlook in 2022 as work becomes even scarcer.

Women held about one in five jobs in Afghanistan in 2020, but are now barred from working in some areas. Girls’ education has also been limited, although Taliban leaders have said they hope to be able to open all girls’ schools across the country after the end of March.

Still, Lyons touted some of the positives while warning that the humanitarian needs are huge – 1 million children at risk of starvation, nearly 90% of the population below the poverty line and hunger threatening two-thirds of the world. Afghanistan. The UN has warned that 8.7 million Afghans are on the brink of starvation.

“Exports also hit the $1 billion mark for the first time ever, civil servants’ salaries were paid,” Lyons said, and praised the Taliban for their new budget, “funded only by national revenues. and not dependent on any donor grants.

Representatives of humanitarian organizations and the diplomatic community still in Afghanistan also attended the conference as well as private businessmen, academics and Taliban ministers. Taliban-appointed prime minister Mullah Mohammad Hasan Akhund chaired the meeting at the sprawling presidential palace in Kabul, a rare public appearance for him.

In his speech, Akhund called for the release of frozen assets from Afghanistan, saying his administration is not asking for money. “The help we are asking for is not for government officials, it is for the poor nation,” he said.

Also present was his deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the chief negotiator of the 2020 deal with the United States that paved the way for the withdrawal of the last U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan. Taliban Finance Minister Mullah Hidayatullah Badri told the assembly that the Afghan economy needed billions of dollars in assets frozen overseas.

Calls for the release of the money have multiplied in recent weeks. Democratic US Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted an appeal to President Joe Biden on Tuesday.

“Afghanistan is facing a humanitarian catastrophe,” Sanders tweeted. “I urge the Biden administration to immediately release billions in frozen Afghan government funds to help avert this crisis and prevent the deaths of millions of people.”

While saying that a reconciliation with the new Taliban leadership is essential for Afghanistan’s economic survival, Lyons said the international community had been successful in securing additional cash in Afghanistan and even finding ways to allow the Taliban to pay some import bills, including electricity.

“The most important of these advances is the adoption of a national budget that has for the first time been entirely financed by national revenues,” Lyons said. She attributed the increase in revenue largely to “Taliban efforts to fight corruption”.

Previous US-backed Afghan governments were plagued by widespread corruption. In 2020, Transparency International ranked Afghanistan among the most corrupt countries in the world.

Lyons said the Taliban have a lot to do to build and gain the trust of those who had worked for the previous government or even the multitude of Afghans, including many professionals, who fled in fear of the new rulers.

The international community would remain committed to the Afghan people, Lyons added. “We look forward to continuing to work with you to serve and support the people of Afghanistan,” she said.

Meanwhile, a former Taliban commander, Mohammad Amir, his son and two others were killed when gunmen opened fire on their car in the northeastern province of Kunar, according to Maulvi Najeebullah, head of the provincial department. culture and information. Seven people were also injured in the attack, which he said was the result of a personal dispute.

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