NGOs in Afghanistan are calling for greater dialogue with the Taliban amid warnings that the humanitarian crisis in the country is worsening as winter approaches.
Millions of displaced Afghans are in dire need of aid assistance after the Islamist group took power following the withdrawal of US and Nato troops earlier this year.
Indrika Ratawatte, a regional director at the UN's Human Rights Council, said the time for debating was over and that humanitarian efforts must be prioritised.
Speaking at the Chatham House think tank, Mr Ratawatte, who oversees the UNHCR's efforts in Asia and the Pacific, said that he expected internal displacement to increase unless there was a "concerted effort" to solve the crisis.
At least 3.7 million Afghans have been displaced by internal conflict alone in the past several years, with more than 600,000 displaced since the Taliban takeover, he said.
"I think this is a time to step up and address the issues in a concrete manner and not politicise the debate, because we are not talking about the regime," he said at the Negotiating with the Taliban event. "We are talking about people and 38 million of them need help right now."
More must be done to assist host countries, such as Pakistan and Iran, which are dealing with asylum fatigue after processing millions of documented and undocumented refugees, he said.
"I think it's time to really sit down with the Taliban and have a robust engagement of civil society", he said.
These neighbouring nations, rather than western governments, could pressure the Taliban by showing them how to integrate women and minorities into an Islamic society.
The Taliban leadership are seeking “normal relations” with Washington after the US closed its Kabul embassy last August. Other powers such as China and Russia have already opened talks with the Taliban and pushed for a more inclusive government.
Dr Orzala Nemat, a leading scholar on Afghanistan, said NGOs have played a vital role in Afghanistan's history and will continue to do so after the collapse of the country's government support structures.
"The de facto reality on the ground is that the Taliban are ruling the country, whether we like it or not," she told the event, and said that a "constructive and principled" engagement was critical to achieving change within the Taliban's senior ranks.
The calls come after the UN’s special representative for the country, Deborah Lyons, said that Afghanistan is “on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe”.
The country’s GDP is estimated to have contracted by 40 per cent, which is probably fuelling extremism, she said.
Statistics show that almost 17 million Afghans face crisis levels of food insecurity, and nearly half of all children under five are malnourished as a consequence of drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, UN agencies have predicted that 23 million of the country’s 38 million population will not have enough food for winter.