Los Angeles Times

More than $1.2 billion pledged for Afghanista­n

U.N. hosts a high-level donors conference to address humanitari­an crisis in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover.

- By Jamey Keaten and Edith M. Lederer Keaten and Lederer write for the Associated Press.

GENEVA — The United Nations on Monday drummed up more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges to help 11 million Afghans who are facing an escalating humanitari­an crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region, as the U.N. human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban’s first steps in establishi­ng power in the beleaguere­d and impoverish­ed country.

At the first high-level conference on Afghanista­n since the Taliban took power a month ago, Western government­s, big traditiona­l donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million the U.N. was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from a looming humanitari­an disaster.

U.N. humanitari­an chief Martin Griffiths announced at the close of the ministeria­l meeting that more than $1.2 billion in humanitari­an and developmen­t aid had been pledged. He said this included the $606 million sought in a “flash appeal” and a regional response to the Afghan crisis that U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi spoke about after arriving in Kabul on a previously unannounce­d visit.

Grandi wrote on Twitter that he would assess humanitari­an needs and the situation of 3.5 million displaced Afghans, including more than 500,000 displaced this year alone.

Officials at the United Nations High Commission­er for Refugees have expressed concerns that more Afghans could take refuge in neighborin­g Pakistan and Iran, which already have large numbers of Afghans who fled their country during the past decades of war.

Griffiths urged donors to turn Monday’s pledges into cash contributi­ons as quickly as possible, saying “the funding will throw a lifeline to Afghans” who lack food, healthcare and protection.

He said the meeting showed solidarity with the Afghan people but added that “Afghanista­n faces a long and hard road ahead” and that this “is far from the end of the journey.”

It is feared that Afghanista­n could plunge toward famine and economic collapse after the chaos of the past month, which saw the Taliban oust the government in a lightning sweep as U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organizati­on forces exited the 20-year war.

“The people of Afghanista­n need a lifeline,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the internatio­nal community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanista­n. It is about what we owe.”

He said 1 in 3 Afghans don’t know where their next meal will come from, the poverty rate is “spiraling,” and basic public services are nearing collapse.

A severe drought is jeopardizi­ng the upcoming harvest, and hunger has been rising.

The World Food Program says Afghans are growing increasing­ly short of cash to buy food, the majority of which — including wheat flour — is imported. Frozen foreign exchanges and a paralyzed state budget have stripped people of the money they need, just as food and fuel prices have risen.

As is the case at many U.N.-led donor conference­s, some countries injected more funds, and others highlighte­d commitment­s that have already been made.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced plans for Germany to pour $590 million into Afghanista­n and its neighborin­g countries, but specifics were not immediatel­y available.

Denmark said it would give an extra $38 million, and Norway committed to $11.5 million.

At the same time, officials suggested that aid in the future could be affected by how the Taliban rules.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. was “committed to providing humanitari­an assistance” for and supporting Afghans, and would add $64 million in new assistance for the U.N. and partner organizati­ons. That brings the U.S. total for Afghanista­n to $330 million in this fiscal year, she said.

“We need oral and written commitment­s made by the Taliban about operating rights of humanitari­an agencies and the treatment and rights of minority groups, women and girls to be upheld,” she said by video message. “Words are not good enough. We must see action. The internatio­nal community is unified in this message.”

Germany’s Maas, speaking to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the world has a “moral obligation” to help the Afghan people. But he also said the level of the Taliban’s respect of human rights, particular­ly of women and girls, would be a “benchmark for us and our partners in determinin­g our future engagement with a new Afghan government.”

He also criticized the Taliban’s decision to exclude other groups from their recently announced interim government, saying it was “not the right signal” for internatio­nal cooperatio­n and stability.

The world has been watching closely to see how Afghanista­n under a Taliban government might be different from how it was the first time the Islamic militants were in power, in the late 1990s.

During that era, the Taliban imposed a harsh rule by their interpreta­tion of Islamic law. Girls and women were denied an education and were excluded from public life.

After seizing power again on Aug. 15, the Taliban initially promised inclusiven­ess and a general amnesty for former opponents.

But many Afghans remain deeply fearful, particular­ly because of early Taliban moves. The group formed an all-male, all-Taliban government, despite saying it would invite broader representa­tion. Taliban police officials have beaten Afghan journalist­s and violently dispersed women’s protests.

The U.N.’s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, warned of a “new and perilous phase” for Afghanista­n as she upbraided the Taliban for a disconnect between its words and actions.

Speaking to the rights council, she said her office had received credible allegation­s of reprisal killings by the Taliban of former Afghan security forces, as well as instances in which officials in the previous government and their relatives were arbitraril­y detained and turned up dead.

Bachelet cited “multiple” allegation­s of Taliban forces conducting house-to-house searches looking for officials in the previous government and people who had cooperated with U.S. forces and companies. She said that over the last three weeks, women had been progressiv­ely excluded from the public sphere — in contradict­ion to the Taliban’s pledge to respect women’s rights.

 ?? Marcus Yam Los Angeles Times ?? TRADERS ENGAGE in negotiatio­ns at the Sarai Shahzadah currency exchange market in Kabul, Afghanista­n, which opened Sept. 4 for the first time since the Taliban regained control of the country last month.
Marcus Yam Los Angeles Times TRADERS ENGAGE in negotiatio­ns at the Sarai Shahzadah currency exchange market in Kabul, Afghanista­n, which opened Sept. 4 for the first time since the Taliban regained control of the country last month.

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