- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2021

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday warned that the Afghan economy is at the brink of collapse following the U.S. withdrawal and the uncertain future for the country’s new Taliban leaders.

Speaking from U.N. headquarters, Mr. Guterres urged the international community to take swift action to an economic meltdown, acknowledging the challenge of working with an extremist government that Mr. Guterres said continues to break promises for observe basic human rights for its citizens.

“Right now, with assets frozen and development aid paused, the economy is breaking down,” Mr. Guterres said. “Banks are closing and essential services such as health care, have been suspended in many places.”

“I urge the world to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse,” he said.

International economic support is one of the last remaining checks on the Taliban, who swept into power in Kabul in August as U.S. and allied troops departed. The Biden administration has frozen nearly $10 billion in Afghan government reserves held in the U.S. Much of the foreign aid earmarked for the fallen U.S.-backed government in Kabul, which made up close to half Afghanistan’s GDP, also dried up.

Ali Nazary, head of Foreign Relations for the National Resistance Front in Afghanistan, said that the international community must remain cautious that they do not embolden the Taliban. The National Resistance Front, led by Ahmad Massoud and based in the remote Panjshir valley in Afghanistan, is the last remaining organized opposition to the Taliban in the country.

“The problem with aid is that there is no guarantee that it will go to the people of Afghanistan,” Mr. Nazary said. “Because the Taliban themselves are low on cash, the Taliban for the past month hasn’t been able to feed their own soldiers, so soldiers are going house to house and demanding people feed them.”

Mr. Nazary argued that any discussion of unfreezing the Taliban’s assets should remain off the table.

“It’s not going to improve the economy,” Mr. Nazary said. “It’s going to embolden the Taliban. It’s going to strengthen their hand. And it’s going to allow them to operate outside of Afghanistan. It’s just fueling international terrorism and criminal activities.”

But Mr. Guterres warns that if the international community does not act soon, the world will be facing a major humanitarian crisis.

“This is a make-or-break moment,” he said. “If we do not act and help Afghans weather this storm, and do it soon, not only they but all the world will pay a heavy price.”

Mr. Guterres’ remarks follow the first in-person meeting over the weekend between the Biden administration and the Taliban since the late August withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The U.S. delegation, which included the State Department’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Tom West and USAID Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance assistant to the administrator Sarah Charles, met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, for a discussion focused on “security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society,” according to a State Department readout.

The topic of humanitarian aid was also broached during the discussions, though few details were offered. The Taliban representatives left the meeting saying Washington had agreed to restore some humanitarian aid, but had balked at recognizing the Taliban as the country’s legitimate new leaders.

“The discussions were candid and professional with the U.S. delegation reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words,” the State Department said.

Mr. Guterres said it was important to maintain pressure on the Taliban to live up to their pledge on human rights, but that should not mean withholding much-needed economic support.

“The Afghan people cannot suffer a collective punishment because the Taliban misbehave,” he said. “People should not die of hunger in any circumstance.”

Mr. Guterres also said he is in no way calling for international recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate government. The State Department made similar clarifications before meeting with the Taliban over the weekend saying that the meeting “was not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy” and that “any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions.”

Still, Mr. Nazary said the international community must remain cautious.

“We believe there’s too much being given away to the Taliban, even if they’re not recognized,” he said.

“The only thing the Taliban know is destruction,” he added. “That’s what they were made for. They weren’t made for good governance. They weren’t made to become statesmen.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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