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Taliban Envoys Seek Aid At Closed-Door Swiss Conference

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A nurse takes care of a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit of the Malalai Maternity Hospital in Kabul in December.

A Taliban delegation is due to meet with the Red Cross and Swiss and European officials in Geneva for talks on aid amid a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.

The weeklong conference marks the second time that representatives of Afghanistan's Taliban-led government have taken part in humanitarian talks hosted by a European country.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry insisted that the delegation's presence in Switzerland does not constitute recognition of the Taliban-led government.

The Taliban-led government last month sent a 15-member delegation to Oslo for similar closed-door talks with Western diplomats.

Separately, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on February 9 that he had met with Taliban health officials ahead of the Geneva conference to discuss the "dire" situation in Afghanistan.

The WHO chief said he had met on February 8 with Taliban Health Minister Qalander Ebad, who is part of the delegation attending the conference, to discuss the health and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

He had previously met with Ebad during a trip to Kabul in September 2021 in the days following the Taliban takeover.

"Despite some improvements since then, the health situation in Afghanistan is still dire and the acute humanitarian crisis is continuing to put lives at risk," Tedros said.

International assistance has virtually come to a halt despite a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban came to power in August.

Geneva Call, a foundation that works to protect civilians during conflict, is hosting the closed-door conference, which runs through February 11. The conference is aimed at enhancing the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country, Geneva Call said in a statement.

"The country is facing a complex emergency due to past overlapping armed conflicts, COVID-19 and its socioeconomic consequences, and extreme weather," the nongovernmental organization said. "Today, 23 million Afghan people are at risk of malnutrition and 97 percent of the population lives under the poverty level."

Geneva Call also said the conference would facilitate the discussion on improving compliance with "humanitarian norms," but its statement does not mention the treatment of women and girls under the Islamist group's rule.

Geneva Call invited the Taliban to the conference "to discuss the status of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilians, respect of health care, and the issue of land mines and explosive remnants of war."

Representatives from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, the Swiss Foreign Ministry's Peace and Human Rights Division, and the ministry’s Asia and Pacific Division are due to meet the delegation during the conference, according to AFP.

The International Committee of the Red Cross also said it would hold talks with the delegation.

At the conclusion of the Oslo talks on January 26, the international community linked humanitarian aid to the Taliban's respect for human rights, particularly the rights of girls, women, and ethnic minorities.

No country has recognized the Taliban-led government, largely because of its lack of attention to these issues.

Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban foreign minister and leader of the delegation that went to Oslo, told AFP in an interview last week that the group feels it is inching closer toward international recognition.

"We have come closer to that goal," he said, urging Washington to unlock $9.5 billion in Afghan Central Bank assets to help ease the humanitarian crisis.

With reporting by AFP
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