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ISLAMABAD: Muslim nations pledged Sunday to create a fund to help Afghanistan avoid an impending economic collapse which they say would have a “horrific” global impact.

At a special meeting in Pakistan of the 57 members of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), delegates also agreed to work with the United Nations to try to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in frozen Afghan assets.

The pledged fund will provide humanitarian aid through the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), which would provide cover for countries to donate without dealing directly with the country’s Taliban leadership.

An OIC resolution issued after the meeting said the IDB would lead the effort to release aid by the first quarter of next year.

The meeting was the largest conference on Afghanistan since the fall of the US-backed government in August and the Taliban’s return to power.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had previously warned of chaos if the worsening emergency was not addressed urgently.

“Unless action is taken immediately, Afghanistan is heading for chaos,” Khan said at the meeting of OIC foreign ministers in Islamabad.

There is growing concern about the crisis, but the international response has been muted, given Western reluctance to help the Taliban government, which seized power in August.

Billions of dollars in aid and assets have been frozen by the international community, and the nation is in the midst of a harsh winter. eKhan addressed his remarks to the United States, urging Washington to drop the preconditions for releasing desperately needed funds and restarting Afghanistan’s banking systems. .

“I speak specifically to the United States that they must dissociate the Afghan government from the 40 million Afghan citizens,” he said, “even though they have been in conflict with the Taliban for 20 years.”

He also urged caution in linking recognition of the new government to Western human rights ideals.

“Every country is different… every society’s idea of ​​human rights is different,” he said.

Engage the Taliban

The OIC also decided on Sunday to have a team of international Muslim academics engage with the Taliban on issues “such as, but not limited to, tolerance and moderation in Islam, equal access to education and women’s rights in Islam ”.

No nation has yet officially recognized the Taliban government, and diplomats face the delicate task of channeling aid into the ailing Afghan economy without backing hard-core Islamists.

He also urged Afghan leaders to respect “the obligations under international human rights covenants, especially with regard to the rights of women, children, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities. special needs ”.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the worsening crisis could lead to mass starvation, an influx of refugees and a rise in extremism.

“We cannot ignore the danger of a complete economic collapse,” he told the meeting, which also included Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi alongside delegates from the United States, China , Russia, the European Union and the UN.

Although the Taliban have promised a lean version of the hard line that characterized their first term in power from 1996 to 2001, women are largely excluded from public jobs, and girls’ high schools have mostly remained closed.

When asked if the OIC has pressured the Taliban to be more inclusive on issues such as women’s rights, Qureshi said “obviously they feel they are going in that direction”.

“They say ‘let’s decide at our own pace’,” he added.

The OIC meeting failed to give the new Taliban government the formal international recognition it desperately needed and the new regime’s Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, was excluded from the official photograph taken during the event.

Muttaqi, however, told reporters that his government “has the right to be officially recognized”.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries to recognize the previous Taliban government.

The OIC 31-point resolution was short on details and gave no figures for financial assistance.

“There are a lot of people who want to donate but don’t want to donate directly, they want a mechanism that they are comfortable with,” Qureshi said.

“This mechanism was designed and commitments will now be made. Obviously, they are aware of the importance of time.

The meeting took place under high security with Islamabad on lockdown, surrounded by barbed wire fences and sea container roadblocks where police and soldiers stand guard.

“Donations alone are not enough”

Martin Griffiths, UN Under Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has warned that Afghanistan cannot survive on donations alone. He urged donor countries to be flexible, allowing their money to pay the wages of public sector workers and to support “basic services such as health, education, electricity, livelihoods. sustenance, to give the Afghan people a chance through this winter and encouragement to stay at home with their families.

Beyond that, Griffiths said, “we need constructive engagement with the de facto authorities to clarify what we expect from each other.”

Afghanistan’s faltering economy, he added, requires decisive and compassionate action, or “I fear this downfall will lead to the downfall of the entire population.”

Griffiths said families simply don’t have the money for daily purchases like food and fuel as prices skyrocket. The cost of fuel has increased by around 40% and most families spend 80% of their money just on food.

He spelled out a number of striking statistics.

“Universal poverty could reach 97% of the Afghan population. This could be the next dark step, ”he warned. “Within a year, 30% of Afghanistan’s GDP (gross domestic product) could be totally lost, while male unemployment could double to 29%.

Next year, the UN would ask for $ 4.5 billion in aid from Afghanistan – this is the biggest request for humanitarian aid, he said.

In what appeared to be a message to the Taliban delegation, Qureshi and subsequent speakers, including Taha, emphasized the protection of human rights, especially those of women and girls.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Muttaqi said the new Afghan leadership is committed to educating girls and women in the workforce.

Yet four months after Taliban rule, girls are not allowed to attend high school in most provinces, and although women have returned to work in much of the health sector, many women officials were prevented from coming to work.

At the conclusion of the summit, Qureshi said that the OIC agreed to appoint a special representative for Afghanistan. The 20 foreign ministers and 10 deputy foreign ministers present also agreed to establish a closer partnership with the United Nations to help desperate Afghans.

Participants also stressed the critical need to open up Afghanistan’s banking facilities, which have been largely closed since the Taliban took control on August 15. The Taliban have limited withdrawals from the country’s banks to $ 200 per month.

“We collectively believe that we must unlock financial and banking channels because the economy cannot function and people cannot be detained without banking services,” Qureshi said.

(With agencies)

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