Taliban thanks world for promised aid

New regime pledges to spend donor money wisely

KABUL • The Taliban has thanked the world for pledging hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency aid to Afghanistan, and urged the United States to show "heart" to the impoverished country.

A donor conference in Geneva on Monday ended with pledges of US$1.2 billion (S$1.6 billion) in aid for Afghanistan, which was taken over by the hardline Islamist group last month in a lightning offensive that took retreating US troops by surprise.

Afghanistan, already heavily dependent on aid, is facing an economic crisis, with food prices soaring and the new authorities unable to pay salaries.

Mr Amir Khan Muttaqi, the regime's acting foreign minister, told a press conference on Tuesday that the Taliban would spend donor money wisely and use it to alleviate poverty.

"We thank and welcome the world's pledge for about US$1 billion dollars in aid and ask them to continue their assistance to Afghanistan," Mr Muttaqi said. "The Islamic Emirate will try its best to deliver this aid to the needy people in a completely transparent manner."

He also asked Washington to show appreciation for the Taliban allowing the US military to complete its troop withdrawal and evacuation of more than 120,000 people last month.

"America is a big country - they need to have a big heart," he said. Mr Muttaqi said Afghanistan, which is also facing a drought, had already received aid from countries such as Pakistan, Qatar and Uzbekistan, but did not give further details.

He said he had held discussions with China's ambassador on the coronavirus vaccine and other humanitarian causes, with Beijing pledging US$15 million that will be available "soon".

Since the Taliban takeover, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have halted Afghanistan's access to funding, while the US has also frozen cash held in its reserves for Kabul.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said on Monday that he believes aid could be used as leverage with the Islamist hardliners to exact improvements on human rights, amid fears of a return to the brutal rule that characterised the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.

"It is impossible to provide humanitarian assistance inside Afghanistan without engaging with the de facto authorities," the UN secretary-general told ministers attending the Geneva talks.

Meanwhile, Afghans are resorting to selling their household goods to raise money to pay for essentials, and bustling second-hand goods markets have mushroomed in most urban centres.

Mr Ajmal Ahmady, former acting governor of the Afghan central bank, tweeted last week that the country no longer had access to around US$9 billion in aid, loans and assets.

On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters in the southern city of Kandahar - the Taliban's spiritual birthplace - protested against the new rulers' plan to evict people from their homes. The demonstrators were from a neighbourhood populated by former Afghan army servicemen - many were widows of servicemen killed in action against the Taliban over the last 20 years, or wives of wounded soldiers.

The residents said they had been ordered to leave by the Taliban but had nowhere to go.

A crowd mainly made up of men and youths, along with some women - many burqa-clad - took to the streets despite the Taliban ban on unauthorised protests.

Kandahar's governor has temporarily stayed any eviction until the matter can be discussed with community elders.

Some reporters covering the march said they were harassed and beaten by Taliban guards along the route.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2021, with the headline 'Taliban thanks world for promised aid'. Subscribe