OSLO (Reuters) – Western diplomats said on Thursday they would expand their Afghan relief operations while continuing to pressure the country’s Islamist Taliban rulers to respect human rights and allow girls to go to school.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Wednesday that Afghanistan was “hanging by a thread” and called for countries to authorise all transactions needed to carry out humanitarian aid.
Some $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank reserves remains blocked abroad and international development support has dried up since the Taliban seized power in August.
With millions of Afghans at risk of starvation this winter as poverty deepens, Norway hosted meetings from Jan. 23-25 between the Taliban and U.S. and European diplomats as well as with aid organisations and Afghan civil society groups.
In a 10-point statement, the diplomats said their governments were “expanding relief operations, helping prevent the collapse of social services and supporting the revival of Afghanistan’s economy”.
The statement did not give any details of funding but said obstacles to the delivery of aid must be removed.
The diplomats “noted with grave concern the absence from, and limitations on access to, secondary schools for girls in many parts of the country and underscored the importance of higher education for women as well as job opportunities for women in all fields.”
They welcomed the Taliban’s public pledges that all women and girls can access schools at all levels when schools across the country reopen in March.
Taliban officials have said they will not repeat the harsh rule of the previous Taliban government toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2001, which banned most girls’ education and forbade women from going out in public without a male guardian.
The diplomats “urged the Taliban to do more to stop the alarming increase of human rights violations”, including arbitrary detentions, forced disappearances, media crackdowns, extra-judicial killings and torture, among other things.
Norway and its NATO allies do not formally recognise the Taliban-led administration that seized power last year, but see talks as a necessity, given the depth of the crisis.
The Taliban delegation, led by acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, was not granted meetings with cabinet-level ministers, but met a junior minister at Norway’s foreign ministry.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Nick Macfie)