Afghanistan 'at brink of economic collapse', warns Pakistan

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The United Nations has warned that more than half of Afghanistan is facing 'acute' food shortages (AFP/Javed TANVEER)
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Afghanistan is "at the brink of economic collapse" and the international community must urgently resume funding and provide humanitarian assistance, Pakistan's foreign minister warned Thursday as US, Chinese, Russian and Taliban diplomats met in Islamabad.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi spoke at the opening of the so-called "troika plus" meeting, which included Thomas West, the new US special envoy for Afghanistan. The delegates also met Thursday with Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.

"Today, Afghanistan stands at the brink of an economic collapse," Qureshi said, adding that any further downward slide would "severely limit" the new Taliban government's ability to run the country.

After the meeting, a joint statement said the four nations had agreed to continue "practical engagement with the Taliban to encourage the implementation of moderate and prudent policies that can help achieve a stable and prosperous Afghanistan as soon as possible".

But it also urged the Taliban to do more to create an inclusive government that provided equal rights and opportunities for women and girls to participate in all aspects of society.

- 'Don't forget history' -

Qureshi said it was "imperative for the international community to buttress provision of humanitarian assistance on an urgent basis".

That included enabling Afghanistan to access funds frozen by Western donors since the Taliban took control of the country in August, he added.

Resuming the flow of funding "will dovetail into our efforts to regenerate economic activities and move the Afghan economy towards stability and sustainability," Qureshi said.

Doing so would also benefit Western countries, he argued in later comments to state media.

"If you think that you are far, Europe is safe and those areas you imagine will not be affected by terrorism, don't forget the history," he said. "We have learned from the history and we don't want to repeat those mistakes made in the past."

In an audio message to Afghan media, Taliban foreign minister Muttaqi said the meeting had recognised efforts the new government was making.

"They all are willing towards this cause and the efforts that are underway in Afghanistan in terms of making peace, eradicating crimes, and betterment of the Afghan government with each passing day," he said.

"All these were mentioned time and again by the group members during the meeting, and to provide support to these causes."

The United Nations has repeatedly warned that Afghanistan is on the brink of the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with more than half the country facing "acute" food shortages and winter forcing millions to choose between migration and starvation.

The troika plus meeting represents envoy West's first trip to the region since taking over from Zalmay Khalilzad, the long-serving diplomat who spearheaded talks that led to the US withdrawal from Afghanistan earlier this year.

The State Department said earlier this week that West also plans to visit Russia and India.

"Together with our partners, he will continue to make clear the expectations that we have of the Taliban and of any future Afghanistan government," State Department spokesman Ned Price told a briefing.

West, who was in Brussels earlier this week to brief NATO on US engagement with the Taliban, told reporters the Islamists have "very clearly" voiced their desire to see aid resumed, normalise international relations and achieve sanctions relief.

He called for unity from allies on those issues, noting that Washington "can deliver none of these things on our own".

bur-st/fox/dva

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