UN envoy meets new Afghan interior minister Haqqani, who is wanted by US

Ms Deborah Lyons is head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.
Ms Deborah Lyons is head of the UN mission in Afghanistan.PHOTO: AFP

KABUL (REUTERS) - A United Nations envoy has met Afghanistan's new interior minister, who was for years one of the world's most wanted Islamist militants and is now part of a government trying to head off a humanitarian crisis.

The meeting between Ms Deborah Lyons, head of the UN mission in Afghanistan, and Mr Sirajuddin Haqqani focused on humanitarian assistance, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday (Sept 16).

"(Haqqani) stressed that UN personnel can conduct their work without any hurdle and deliver vital aid to the Afghan people," he said.

Afghanistan was already facing chronic poverty and drought, but the situation has deteriorated since the Taliban took over last month, with the disruption of aid, the departure of tens of thousands of people, including government and aid workers, and the collapse of much economic activity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told an international aid conference this week that Afghans were facing "perhaps their most perilous hour".

The UN mission in Afghanistan said that in the Wednesday meeting, Ms Lyons had stressed the "absolute necessity for all UN and humanitarian personnel in Afghanistan to be able to work without intimidation or obstruction to deliver vital aid and conduct work for Afghan people".

The Taliban repeatedly targeted the United Nations during the two-decades-long US-led military mission in Afghanistan, which ended last month with the rout of the Western-backed government.

In one of the bloodiest incidents, Taliban militants killed five UN foreign workers in an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul in 2009.

More recently, gunmen attacked a UN compound in the city of Herat in July with rocket-propelled grenades, killing a guard; while protesters in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif in 2011 killed seven UN workers.

The Haqqani network, a faction within the Taliban and for years based on the border with Pakistan, was held responsible for some of the worst militant attacks in Afghanistan during the Taliban insurgency. The United States designated the group a terrorist organisation in 2012.

Mr Haqqani, head of the eponymous network founded by his father, is one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted men, with a reward of US$10 million (S$13.4 million) for information leading to his arrest.

US officials and members of the old US-backed Afghan government had for years said the Haqqani network maintained ties with Al-Qaeda.

The Taliban has promised not to let Afghanistan be used for militant attacks on other countries.