Taliban assure UN over safety and security of humanitarian workers

The Taliban have given the UN written assurances on the safe passage and freedom of movement for humanitarian workers operating in Afghanistan, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, has told a UN fundraising conference in Geneva.

Reading extracts from the Taliban undertakings, Griffiths said he had also received the assurances that aid agencies would be able to operate independently of the government, and would be free to employ women.

The assurances were givenin the name of the Afghan deputy prime minister, and follow talks Griffiths held with the Taliban leadership last week in Kabul.

The assurances may act as a benchmark against which the Taliban can be tested and help humanitarian workers continue to operate in a country where a third of the population are suffering hunger, and as many as 18 million are in various forms of need.

The country is in a state of economic meltdown after the sudden cut off of US aid following the Taliban takeover.

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, announced a further $64m (£46m) in aid, but warned “aid agencies cannot do their job unless the Taliban uphold their promises. All aid operations need to be independently monitored, reported upon and be secure.” She added reports of Taliban interference were “frightening, unacceptable and destabilising”.

About a third of the $606m being sought by the UN would be used by the UN world food programme, which found that 93% del 1,600 Afghans it surveyed in August and September were not consuming sufficient food, mostly because they could not get access to cash to pay for it.

“It’s now a race against time and the snow to deliver life-saving assistance to the Afghan people who need it most,” said WFP deputy regional director Anthea Webb.

“We are quite literally begging and borrowing to avoid food stocks running out.”

Germany announced a further €500m (£527m aid and France a further €100m. The UK foreign secretary, Domenico Raab, offered no further cash saying the UK had already doubled aid earlier this year to £286m.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has said she is profoundly alarmed by the escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and called for a dedicated investigatory mechanism to monitor the crisis in the country.

The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) has so far not set up such a mechanism, an omission that has been criticised by aid groups and human rights bodies.

Bachelet also repeated her criticism of the Taliban’s human rights record since seizing power in Afghanistan, noting that stated commitments did not match realities on the ground such as the status of women.

“Importantly, and in contradiction to assurances that the Taliban would uphold women’s rights, over the past three weeks, women have instead been progressively excluded from the public sphere,” she told the HRC in Geneva.

She also expressed dismay at the composition of the Taliban’s new government, noting the absence of women and its dominance by ethnic Pashtuns. She said the civil service was also being changed by the Taliban, while credible reports of reprisal killings also existed.

Overall, she warned that the country was entering a new and more perilous phase.

Her remarks come as donors convened in Geneva for a separate attempt to address the worsening crisis in Afghanistan by raising international funds. The UN has said the country is on the brink of collapse. There are concerns that UN and US sanctions may hold up the flow of aid as NGOs seek assurances that they will be not subject to US Treasury fines if they are seen to be helping Taliban-linked organisations, such as government ministries. The US is holding off providing aid unless it gets clearer commitments from the Taliban about its future behaviour.

China has already provided $30m (£21.6m), and the Russian foreign ministry said on Monday it was planning to send food and medicines shortly.

Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, the most senior politician to visit Kabul since the fall of the capital to the Taliban, has been trying to ensure the flow of aid can be restarted. It has called for humanitarian assistance to be independent from any political progress.

Efforts to prevent a chaotic approach to recognising the Taliban will be made on Thursday at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Tajikistan due to be attended by ministers and security chiefs from Khazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, and Pakistan, along with Afghanistan, which has observer status at the meeting. Iran’s new president, Ibrahim Raisi, was also expected to attend in what will be his first overseas trip since being inaugurated.

With 18.4 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, significant displacement combined with rising levels of Covid-19 and acute food security needs, there is a risk that humanitarian assistance will be badly coordinated.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee, called for governments to urgently increase funding to the humanitarian appeal in Afghanistan, and ensure funds quickly reach frontline humanitarians. The IRC has nearly 2,000 staff in the country and is seeking assurances about the safety of its female staff, almost all Afghans.

Miliband said: “Afghans must not pay twice over for failures of the international community – first for war and now for neglect. While international attention has been understandably focused on evacuations, 40 million Afghans remain in a country on the verge of a humanitarian meltdown.”

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