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Afghanistan's Collapsing Economy Heightens 'Risk Of Extremism,' UN Envoy Warns

UN Special Representative For Afghanistan Deborah Lyons (file photo)

The UN's special representative for Afghanistan has warned about a potential "humanitarian catastrophe" in Afghanistan as she appealed to the international community to find a way to provide financial aid to the country.

Deborah Lyons told the UN Security Council on November 17 that 60 percent of Afghanistan's 38 million people now faced crisis levels of hunger and the situation will likely worsen over the winter.

Lyons said the international community must find ways to provide financial support to the Afghan people, who she said "feel abandoned, forgotten, and indeed punished by circumstances that are not their fault."

She said financial sanctions on the Taliban "have paralyzed the banking system, affecting every aspect of the economy."

This includes pay for health-care workers in state hospitals and staff in food security programs, and the international community "needs urgently to find a way to provide financial support" to change this.

She assured council members that the UN will make every effort to ensure that funds will not be diverted to the Taliban.

After the Taliban seized power in August, the United States froze nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to Afghanistan's central bank and stopped shipments of cash.

The moves were part of a pressure campaign aimed at getting Afghanistan's new rulers to create an inclusive government and respect the rights of women and minorities.

Afghanistan was also scheduled to access about $450 million from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but the IMF earlier this year said that Afghanistan would no longer be able to access its resources.

Lyons said the "paralysis of the banking sector will push more of the financial system into unaccountable and unregulated informal money exchanges." That will only help facilitate terrorism, human trafficking, and drug smuggling that will eventually "infect the region," she said.

"The reality of the current situation threatens to heighten the risk of extremism," Lyons said.

She said a negative development has already been the Taliban's inability to stem the expansion of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-K) extremist group, which now appears to be present in nearly all provinces. The number of attacks attributed to IS-K has increased significantly from 60 last year to 334 this year, she said.

China and Russia again urged the unfreezing of Afghanistan's reserves, but U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis made no mention of the frozen assets in his comments to the council.

He criticized the Taliban for ignoring calls earlier this year by the Security Council and the international community to peacefully pursue a political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan and instead choosing a battlefield victory. "And we are now seeing the terrible consequences of this choice unfold before our eyes," he said.

Lyons said the only way to avoid losing much of the progress of the last 20 year is for the Taliban to avoid its past isolation and engage in a policy dialogue with other Afghan parties, the wider region, and the international community.

She said the goal should be to spell out a road map with concrete steps to establish "constructive relations between Afghanistan and the world at large."

The Taliban government has not been recognized by any country or the United Nations. Afghanistan's UN seat is still held by the representative of the previous government, Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai.

Isaczai told the council that Afghanistan was facing "a crisis of historic proportions" and if the current trends continue, "Afghanistan will experience near universal poverty."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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