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UN Envoy Warns Of 'Breakdown' In Afghanistan If Taliban Doesn't Get Funds

A person holds a bundle of Afghan banknotes at a money exchange market, following banks and markets reopening in Kabul on September 4.

A UN envoy warned that shutting off the flow of money to Afghanistan to keep it out of the Taliban’s hands threatens to collapse the country and its economy.

UN special envoy on Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the Security Council on September 9 that a chance should be given to the Taliban as the fundamentalist group moves from insurgency to trying to govern the country.

"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," Lyons told the 15-member council.

If funds aren’t freed up, "a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations."

"The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender, and counter-terrorism perspective," she said.

Afghanistan faced drought, displacement, and a humanitarian crisis even before the Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in August as U.S.-led international forces prepared to withdraw. At the start of 2021, half of Afghanistan's population, or more than 18 million people, needed humanitarian assistance.

Foreign donors provided more than 75 percent of the state budget under Afghanistan's former Western-backed government, but those payments stopped when the Taliban took control.

The United States has frozen much of the Afghan central bank's $10 billion in assets, using them as leverage on the new rulers in Kabul. The International Monetary Fund 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.

He said the international community had set clear expectations from the Taliban, including facilitating safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan, respecting the country’s international obligations, and human rights issues.

As a result of the money valves being shut, the currency has plunged, food and fuel prices are spiking, and the country is suffering from a banking and payments crisis. Many government workers and others are going without pay, threatening the collapse of an already fragile state bureaucracy and other services.

The UN Development Program said that 72 percent of Afghans are living precariously on less than one dollar a day.

That figure could soar to 97 percent by mid-2022 due to foreign money drying up and the COVID-19 pandemic, said the UN agency's Asia director, Kanni Wignaraja.

Russia and China, which are both engaging with the Taliban, 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.

Many of the world's leading nations have been waiting to see if the Taliban acts on promises of being more moderate and inclusive compared to their brutal reign in 1996-2001.

Western powers say they are prepared to send humanitarian aid, but that broader economic engagement depends the actions of the Taliban.

Earlier this week, the Taliban unveiled an acting government composed of veteran militants, many with close connections to the group's previous rule when human and women's rights were crushed and strict punishments were doled out in an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

Lyons said there were "credible allegations" that the Taliban has carried out reprisal killings of security forces as well as detained officials from the previous government despite promises of amnesty.

She also noted receiving increasing reports of curbs again being placed on women's rights.

"They have limited girls' access to education in some regions and dismantled the Department of Women's Affairs across Afghanistan," she added.

Based on reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters