UN and G7 hold crisis talks on Afghanistan's future

Governments face the challenge of maintaining humanitarian aid without empowering militants

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The United Nations Security Council met on Monday to vote on a resolution on Afghanistan, which some members hope would pressure the Taliban to allow for the re-opening of Kabul airport for Afghans who wish to leave the country.

France had previously been explicit in calling for a "safe zone" that would also allow international coordination on the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Aid money should come on one condition – that the rights of girls to education are upheld
UN Envoy and former UK PM Gordon Brown

“Our draft resolution aims to define, under UN control, a safe zone in Kabul that would allow humanitarian operations to continue," French President Emmanuel Macron had told Le Journal du Dimanche.

The "safe zone" issue was a point on contention on Monday. Wang Wenbin, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, said that China would respect the Taliban's rejection of the proposal, saying that such a zone would impinge on Afghanistan's sovereignty.

"We believe that the international community should respect Afghanistan's sovereign independence, territorial integrity and the will of its people, and that any action to be taken by the Security Council and the international community should help to ease conflicts and contribute to a smooth transition of the situation in Afghanistan," he said.

A virtual extraordinary meeting of Group of Seven along with Turkey and Qatar as well as Nato and EU representatives was also held on Monday to discuss Afghanistan.

At the virtual event, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged his counterparts from other countries to work together to provide safe passage out of Afghanistan for eligible Afghans still in the country.

Mr Raab also said the Taliban leadership should be judged on its actions and on whether people are allowed to leave, the Foreign Office said in a statement.

Mr Raab's and Mr Macron's comments contrasted with the position of China on safe zones, but Russia has also signalled a softer line on the Taliban. On Monday, Russia’s envoy on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov called for the US to unfreeze around $7bn of Afghan government Central Bank reserves held with US institutions.

Mr Kabulov's views on engaging with the Taliban were not an outlying opinion however. UN special envoy for global education and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on the G7 to offer substantial aid to the Taliban in exchange for maintaining education for girls.

“G7 nations should make a bold offer of $8 billion of international aid for Afghan education over the next 20 years – the same as in the last 20 years – to be overseen by Unicef and the brave humanitarian agencies on the ground, including Education Cannot Wait, the refugee organisation that will be needed as the numbers of displaced children rise,” Mr Brown said.

“And the money should come on one condition – that the rights of girls to education are upheld," he said. “Aid will be withdrawn if girls’ rights are not upheld.”

International aid resumes

As world powers debated how to best engage with the new Taliban government, emergency aid to the country resumed with a plane carrying World Health Organization medicines and health supplies landing in Afghanistan on Monday.

"After days of non-stop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that – for now – WHO-supported health services can continue," Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, said in a statement.

The WHO had warned on Friday that medical supplies would run out within days in Afghanistan, announcing that it hoped to establish an air bridge into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif by then with the help of Pakistani authorities.

The 12.5 tonnes of supplies that arrived on Monday consist of trauma kits and emergency health kits, enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people as well as provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients, the WHO said.

They will be delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan, it added.

"One of the great risks for the health system here is basically to collapse because of lack of support," said Filipe Ribeiro, Afghanistan representative for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), one of the largest medical aid agencies in the country.

"The overall health system in Afghanistan is understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded, for years. And the great risk is that this underfunding will continue over time." Funding for many aid and development projects in Afghanistan was frozen by the US, EU, World Bank and the IMF when the Taliban took Kabul on August 15.

Necephor Mghendi, Afghanistan head of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), said the healthcare system, which was already fragile and heavily reliant on foreign aid, had been left under additional strain.

"The humanitarian needs on the ground are massive," he said.

Both aid agencies said that while their ground operations were broadly unaffected, they had seen a significant increase in demand as other facilities are unable to fully function.

Mr Mghendi said closures of Afghan banks had meant almost all humanitarian agencies have been unable to access funds, leaving vendors and staff unpaid.

Compounding the issue, medical supplies will now need to be restocked earlier than expected.

"Supplies that were supposed to last for three months will not be able to last three months. We may need to replenish much earlier than that," Mr Mghendi said.

Mr Ribeiro said MSF had stockpiled medical supplies before the takeover but that with flights disrupted and land borders in disarray, it was unclear when more might reach the country.

During its period in power from 1996-2001, the Islamist militant Taliban had an uneasy relationship with foreign aid agencies, eventually expelling many, including MSF, in 1998.

This time, the group has said it welcomes foreign donors, and will protect the rights of foreign and local staff - a commitment that has so far been upheld, Mr Ribeiro said.

Updated: August 30, 2021, 6:32 PM