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Taliban in Geneva to discuss aid, frozen assets with diplomats

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KABUL: A Taliban delegation is in Geneva for a week of NGO-hosted talks on humanitarian access and human rights, as crisis-besieged Afghanistan’s new governors expand their international engagement.

The Geneva Call foundation, which works to protect civilians during conflict, said on Tuesday it was hosting a conference on Afghanistan behind closed doors from Monday to Friday, aimed at enhancing unimpeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the country.

“The country is facing a complex emergency due to past overlapping armed conflicts, Covid-19 and its socio-economic consequences, and extreme weather,” the non-governmental organisation said in a statement.

“Today, 23 million Afghan people are at risk of malnutrition and 97 percent of the population lives under the poverty level.”

Geneva Call said it had therefore invited the Taliban to a conference “to discuss the status of humanitarian assistance, the protection of civilians, respect of healthcare and the issue of landmines and explosive remnants of war”.

The delegation will also meet with Swiss and other European officials, plus the Red Cross –– though Switzerland’s Foreign Ministry insisted on Tuesday that their presence on Swiss soil did not constitute recognition of the Taliban.

Taliban seized control in mid-August after the Western-backed government collapsed while the United States ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan. It immediately declared the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (or IEA).

Since then, Afghanistan has plunged into financial chaos, with inflation and unemployment surging, while the halting of aid has triggered a humanitarian crisis in a country already devastated by decades of war.

The Taliban feels it is inching closer towards international recognition, its Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi told western media last week, in his first interview since returning from talks with Western powers in Oslo.

No country has formally recognised the government installed after the Taliban seized power.

But Muttaqi said the Taliban is slowly gaining international acceptance.

“We have come closer to that goal,” he said, as he urged Washington to unlock Afghanistan’s frozen assets, some $10 billion, to help ease the humanitarian crisis.

Switzerland’s ATS news agency reported that the Geneva delegation was being led by Latifullah Hakimi and numbers around 10 people.

Hakimi is a senior official at the Taliban Defence Ministry. He heads a commission formed by the Taliban government to identify members who were flouting the movement’s regulations.

Representatives from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and from the foreign ministry’s Peace and Human Rights Division and its Asia and Pacific Division, are also due to meet the delegation this week.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it would hold talks with the delegation from IEA.

“The ICRC has a long-standing relationship with the IEA. This dialogue is essential in order to fulfill our strictly neutral and impartial humanitarian mission,” a spokesman said.

“We will continue this dialogue with the high-level IEA delegation in Geneva this week and look forward to constructive discussions.”

Geneva Call said its conference was aimed at improving compliance with humanitarian norms in Afghanistan and the safe passage of aid.

The NGO said its home city was chosen to host the talks as it had a long tradition of negotiations and respect for international humanitarian law.

The United Nations last month said it needed $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022 to avert a humanitarian catastrophe and offer the ravaged country a future after 40 years of suffering.

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