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Donors pledge $1.2 billion in aid for Afghanistan amid concerns over Taliban rule

Taliban fighters set down prayer mats during Friday prayers
Taliban fighters prepare for Friday prayers at the Pul-I-Khishti Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

The United Nations drummed up more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges Monday for helping 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region as the U.N. human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban’s first steps in establishing power in the beleaguered and impoverished country.

At the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago, Western governments, big traditional donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million that the United Nations was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster.

U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths announced at the close of the ministerial meeting that more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian and development aid had been pledged. He said this included the $606 million sought in a “flash appeal” but also a regional response to the Afghan crisis that U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi spoke about after arriving in Kabul on a previously unannounced visit.

He wrote on Twitter that he would assess humanitarian needs and the situation of 3.5 million displaced Afghans, including more than 500,000 displaced this year alone.

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Officials at the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, have expressed concerns that more Afghans could take refuge in neighboring Pakistan and Iran, which both already have large numbers of Afghans who fled their country during the past decades of war.

Griffiths urged donors to turn Monday’s pledges into cash contributions as fast as possible, saying “the funding will throw a lifeline to Afghans” who lack food, healthcare and protection. He said the meeting showed solidarity with the Afghan people but added that “Afghanistan faces a long and hard road ahead” and this “is far from the end of the journey.”

It is feared that Afghanistan could further plunge toward famine and economic collapse after the chaos of the last month, which saw the Taliban oust the government in a lightning sweep as U.S. and NATO forces exited the 20-year war.

“The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the conference. “After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe.”

He said one in three Afghans didn’t know where their next meal would come from, the poverty rate was “spiraling,” and basic public services were nearing collapse. A severe drought is jeopardizing the upcoming harvest, and hunger has been rising.

The U.N.’s World Food Program says Afghans are growing increasingly short of cash to buy food, the majority of which — like wheat flour — is imported. Frozen foreign exchanges and a paralyzed state budget have stripped people of the money they need, just as food and fuel prices have risen.

With the Taliban in control, Washington seeks a new pressure point: dollars.

As with many other U.N.-led donor conferences, some countries injected more funds, and others highlighted commitments already made. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas announced plans for Germany to pour $590 million into Afghanistan and its neighboring countries, but specifics were not immediately provided. Denmark said it would give an extra $38 million, and Norway $11.5 million.

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At the same time, officials suggested aid in the future could be affected by how the Taliban ruled.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the U.S. was “committed to providing humanitarian assistance” for and supporting Afghans, and would add $64 million in new assistance for U.N. and partner organizations. That brings the U.S. total for Afghanistan to $330 million in this fiscal year, she said.

“We need oral and written commitments made by the Taliban about operating rights of humanitarian agencies and the treatment and rights of minority groups, women and girls to be upheld,” she said by video message. “Words are not good enough. We must see action. The international community is unified in this message.”

Women in Afghanistan can continue to study in universities, but classrooms will be gender-segregated and Islamic dress is compulsory.

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Germany’s Maas, speaking to the Human Rights Council also in Geneva, said the world had a “moral obligation” to help the Afghan people. But he also said the level of the Taliban’s respect of human rights, particularly of women and girls, would be a “benchmark for us and our partners in determining our future engagement with a new Afghan government.”

He also criticized the Taliban’s decision to exclude other groups from their recently announced interim government, saying it was “not the right signal” for international cooperation and stability.

The world has been watching closely to see how Afghanistan under a Taliban government might be different from the first time the Islamic militants were in power, in the late 1990s. During that era, the Taliban imposed a harsh rule by their interpretation of Islamic law. Girls and women were denied an education and were excluded from public life.

In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, women who fear being targeted for their work see dwindling hope of escape.

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Initially after seizing power on Aug. 15, the Taliban promised inclusiveness and a general amnesty for former opponents. But many Afghans remain deeply fearful, particularly because of early Taliban moves. The group formed an all-male, all-Taliban government despite saying initially they would invite broader representation. Taliban police officials have beaten Afghan journalists and violently dispersed women’s protests.

The U.N.'s human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, warned of a “new and perilous phase” for Afghanistan as she upbraided the Taliban for a disconnect between its words and actions.

Speaking to the rights council, she said her office had received credible allegations of reprisal killings by the Taliban of former Afghan security forces, as well as instances in which officials in the previous government and their relatives were arbitrarily detained and later turned up dead.

Bachelet cited “multiple” allegations of Taliban forces conducting house-to-house searches looking for specific officials in the previous government and people who cooperated with U.S. forces and companies. She said that, over the last three weeks, women had been progressively excluded from the public sphere — in contradiction to the Taliban’s pledge to respect women’s rights.

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Associated Press writer James Keaten reported this story in Geneva and AP writer Edith M. Lederer reported from the United Nations. AP writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad and Rahim Faiez in Istanbul contributed to this report.


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