Hundreds of protesters have marched through the streets of Kabul towards the shuttered United States’ embassy, urging the release of Afghanistan’s frozen assets.
Holding banners reading, “Let us eat” and “Give us our frozen money”, the protesters chanted slogans and marched down a central avenue on Tuesday, with the ruling Taliban providing security.
International funding to Afghanistan has been suspended and billions of dollars of the country’s assets abroad, mostly in the US, were frozen after the Taliban took control of the country in August.
The lack of funding has battered Afghanistan’s already troubled economy, leading to increasing poverty while aid groups warn of a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
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State employees, from doctors to teachers and administrative civil servants, have not been paid in months. Banks, meanwhile, have restricted how much money account holders can withdraw.
At a special meeting in Pakistan of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) delegates said they would work “to unlock the financial and banking channels to resume liquidity and flow of financial and humanitarian assistance”.
The meeting was the biggest conference on Afghanistan since the US-backed government fell in August and the Taliban returned to power.
Pakistan warned of “grave consequences” for the international community if Afghanistan’s economic meltdown continued, and urged world leaders to find ways to engage with the Taliban to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the deepening crisis could bring mass hunger, a flood of refugees and a rise in “extremism”.
“We cannot ignore the danger of complete economic meltdown,” he told the gathering, which also included Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi alongside delegates from the US, China, Russia, the European Union and the UN.
No nation has yet formally recognised the Taliban government and diplomats face the delicate task of channelling aid to the stricken Afghan economy without propping up the new rulers.
The Taliban’s previous regime 20 years ago banned women and girls from education and public life, mandated beards for men and attendance at prayers, banned sports and entertainment and carried out public executions.
But current Taliban government officials say their rule will be different, including eventually allowing education for all girls, and have called on the international community to release funds and help stave off a humanitarian disaster.