The Latest: UN: Afghanistan on brink of “universal poverty”

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations development agency says Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of “universal poverty” which could become a reality in the middle of next year unless urgent efforts are made to bolster local communities and their economies.

It said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.

The U.N. Development Program outlined four scenarios for Afghanistan following the Taliban’s Aug. 15 assumption of power that predict the country’s GDP will decline between 3.6% and 13.2% in the next fiscal year starting in June 2022, depending on the intensity of the crisis and how much the world engages with the Taliban. That is in sharp contrast to the expected 4% growth in GDP before the fall of the government.

“Afghanistan pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year,” Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Director, told a news conference Thursday launching its 28-page assessment. “That’s where we’re heading — it’s 97-98% (poverty rate) no matter how you work these projections.”

Currently, the poverty rate is 72% and Wignaraja pointed to many development gains after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001: Per capita income more than doubled in the last 20 years, life expectancy at birth was extended by about nine years, the number of years of schooling rose from six to 10, “and we got women into university.”

But she said Afghanistan now faces “a humanitarian and development disaster” resulting from political instability, frozen foreign reserves, a collapsed public finance system, “a crush on local banking because of this,” as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

UNITED NATIONS — The United States has a message for the Taliban: If it lives up to all its commitments, brings greater stability to Afghanistan and the region, demonstrates widespread inclusion, and protects the gains of the last 20 years “we’ll work with it.”

But U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who delivered the message at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday, stressed that “any legitimacy and support will have to be earned.”

He said the standards the international community has set are clear and include facilitating safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan and respecting the country’s obligations under international humanitarian law “including those related to the protection of civilians.”

“We’re watching closely to see that those standards are met,” he said.

DeLaurentis told the council that following the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan needs the United Nations and the U.N. political mission in the country “more than ever.”

He said “the United States remains committed to the people of Afghanistan,” and as the country’s largest humanitarian donor it is helping partners on the ground provide assistance, “but the needs are vast.”

With the diplomatic footprint in the country reduced, DeLaurentis said, “the U.N. has a vitally important role to play” not only in coordinating aid but in preventing human rights violations and abuses and pursuing accountability for those that have occurred, and in protecting children and civilians.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s foreign ministry says it has brought 139 Afghan citizens to its capital of Bucharest after initially evacuating them from Afghanistan to Pakistan.

Foreign affairs minister Bogdan Aurescu said Thursday that the evacuations were “extremely complicated missions” and that the arrival of the Afghans was a “very emotional moment.”

Romanian officials have said they have evacuated a total of 156 Afghans. Some had worked with Romanian troops in Afghanistan and the others are students with scholarships in Romania, journalists and human rights activists.

Romania has also repatriated 49 Romanian citizens and helped evacuate seven citizens of some allied states since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan.

Officials say eight Romanian citizens remain in Afghanistan and so far have not asked to be repatriated.

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UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan is urging the world to unite to prevent the economic collapse of the country, to address fears the Taliban’s Islamic state may spread to its neighbors and to fight terrorism.

Deborah Lyons warns that the Taliban have “visibly welcomed and sheltered” al-Qaida members and that Islamic State extremists remain active “and could gain strength.”

She told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that it will have to decide what steps to take regarding many of the 33 members of the Taliban government who are on the U.N. sanctions blacklist, including the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers and foreign minister.

Lyons says the humanitarian crisis is worsening and there is “a looming crisis” caused by donors freezing billions of dollars in Afghan assets. She says the fund freezes can cause “a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger” and may spark a refugee exodus and set the country back for generations.

She says ways must be found to provide humanitarian relief “on a huge scale” and quickly allow money to flow to Afghanistan to “prevent a total breakdown of the economy and social order” while creating safeguards to ensure the money is not misused by the Taliban authorities.

In Lyons words, “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender and counterterrorism perspective.”

Lyons says that despite the Taliban’s statements of a general amnesty, the U.N. has received “credible allegations of reprisal killings,” the detention of officials who worked for previous administrations, house-to-house searches by Taliban who have seized property particularly in Kabul, and restrictions on women working and limitations to girls’ education in some regions.

Lyons says U.N. premises for the most part have been respected but its national staff has faced increasing harassment and intimidation.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister says the world community should not take steps that risk an economic collapse in Afghanistan.

Shah Mahmood Quereshi on Thursday urged the international community to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets to enable Kabul use its own money to avert a worsening humanitarian crisis.

His appeal came two days after the Taliban announced an interim government for Afghanistan. At a news conference in Islamabad alongside Qatari counterpart Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Qureshi did not name any single country. But Qureshi said no strings should be attached to humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan.

The Taliban government currently does not have access to the Afghanistan central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. These reserves were blocked amid last month’s political turmoil in Afghanistan.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. veterans groups hope that news that private evacuation flights are starting up again for Western citizens in Kabul means Afghans considered at risk for past work with Americans will soon be able to leave again as well.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers, veterans groups and other American organizations and individuals have been pressing the Biden administration to do more to get out those vulnerable Afghans. They include thousands of Afghans who used to work with the U.S. military, and are eligible for what are known as Special Immigrant Visas.

James Miervaldis, a spokesman with a veterans group, No One Left Behind working on behalf of those Afghans, called the news, “Awesome. We’ll start getting SIVs booked up.”

Miervaldis said he had yet to hear a commitment from officials to get Afghan allies on the flights out as well as citizens. But veterans had talked with Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Friday, and let him know that the organizations working to get Afghans out have committed $2 million for commercial air fare out of Afghanistan.

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MOSCOW – Russian President Vladimir Putin says Moscow is interested in peace and stability in Afghanistan and in stopping the exodus of Afghans from the country, which has been triggered by the Taliban’s swift power grab last month.

Putin spoke at a summit on Thursday via videoconference to officials from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. He told BRICS leaders that “Russia, just like its BRICS partners, consistently supports the establishment of the long-awaited peace and stability on the Afghan land.”

Putin said Russia is “interested in stopping the flow of migration” and wants Afghans to “live peaceful and dignified lives in their motherland.”

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with the Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator over the past few years, reaching out to the feuding Afghan factions, including the Taliban — even though Russia has labeled them a terrorist organization.

Unlike many other countries, Russia hasn’t announced a pledge to take in Afghan refugees in the wake of the Taliban’s takeover of power. Putin has previous said that Moscow doesn’t “want militants appearing (in Russia) again under the guise of refugees.”

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MORE ON AFGHANISTAN:

Taliban name caretaker Cabinet that pays homage to old guard

US-built databases a potential tool of Taliban repression

Blinken and Austin to visit Gulf to address postwar stresses

Taliban say they took Panjshir, last holdout Afghan province

Over 24 hours in Kabul, brutality, trauma, moments of grace

— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

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ISLAMABAD — CIA Director William Burns has met with Pakistan’s powerful army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, the military said.

In a statement, the military said regional security and developments in Afghanistan were discussed during the meeting Thursday. It didn’t elaborate.

“Pakistan remains committed to cooperate with its international partners for peace in the region and ensuring a stable and prosperous future for the Afghan people,” the statement said.

Burns thanked Pakistan for its role in the evacuation operations from Afghanistan and pledged further improvements in diplomatic cooperation with Pakistan.

Burns also met with Pakistan’s intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hamid, the statement said.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan says Qatar’s foreign minister will arrive in Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad to discuss the latest situation in Afghanistan.

In a statement, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said Qatari chief diplomat Mohammad bin Abdulrahman Al Thani during his day-long visit Thursday will meet with Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other top officials.

It said Pakistan and Qatar enjoy close, cordial ties. “The two countries closely collaborate on regional and global issues of common interest,” the statement said.

The development comes two days after the Taliban announced an interim government for Afghanistan. The Taliban maintain a political office in Doha.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — The interior ministry of the new Taliban government is seeking to end protests in Afghanistan after days of demonstrations that have brought heavy-handed assaults on protesters.

The minister has issued an order to end all protests in the country — unless demonstrators get prior permission, including approval of slogans and banners.

It’s unlikely the women who have been leading near daily protest demanding their rights from the country’s hardline Islamic rulers will be allowed to protest under the new rules. In the words of the ministry’s statement: “It is announced to all citizens not to attempt at the present time to hold any demonstrations under any name whatsoever.”

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has taken to Twitter to say his flight from Kabul on Aug. 15 was done to save Afghanistan’s capital from bloodshed. He says his security personnel advised the secret departure, which opened the gates of the city to a Taliban takeover.

Ghani also denies widespread allegations of corruption as well as charges that he left the country with millions of dollars. He says there should be an independent investigation.

Ghani’s sudden departure has been widely criticized both in Afghanistan and abroad. Washington blamed Ghani’s flight and the government’s collapse for a Taliban takeover ahead of a negotiated deal.

Prominent Afghan political figures who stayed behind say they had expected to meet with Taliban political leaders the following day to continue negotiations.

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