AP Interview: UN refugee chief says Afghan stability needed

AP , Wednesday 15 Sep 2021

Filippo Grandi said the world faces a difficult choice

Filippo Grandi
Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees speaks during a press conference in Beirut, on March 9. AP

The international community and the Taliban will need to find a way to deal with each other for the sake of stabilizing Afghanistan, the chief of the U.N. refugee agency said Tuesday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Filippo Grandi said the world faces a difficult choice. He said it needs to balance the danger that an isolated Afghanistan would descend into violence and chaos against the political minefield supporting a Taliban-led government would present.

``The international community will have to balance pragmatism, the need to keep Afghanistan stable and viable, and the political considerations that that would mean supporting a government led by the Taliban,`` said Grandi.

The Taliban toppled Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government on Aug. 15. They have faced international criticism for forming an interim government made up entirely of Taliban members despite promises to be more inclusive. Governments around the world have said they will not recognize Afghanistan's new rulers until a more inclusive government is put in place.

Grandi said a compromise is urgently needed to avoid an economic meltdown that could cause violence and chaos that would ignite a mass exodus. A collapse of the already fragile Afghan economy would engulf Afghanistan's neighbors and ripple across the world, he said.

``It's urgent. This is not one of those developmental issues that one can discuss for five years before coming to a conclusion, but it will require compromises on the part of everybody,'' he said. ``I think that the international community will have to adapt some of its more stringent rules about working with governments ... and the Taliban will have to make compromises as well.``

Grandi said he met with Taliban ministers and found that they listened. They have discussions among themselves, suggesting some might be open to an approach that is less harsh, less restrictive than their past rule, he said. He added however that they will be judged by their actions.

The task of meeting Afghanistan's humanitarian needs has global support, he said, as indicated by the $1.2 billion raised by the U.N. on Monday.

Grandi said humanitarian aid must be delivered quickly to keep people fed and sheltered, noting that winter is approaching quickly.

While the world is united to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, the logistics challenge is enormous in a country that does not even have a working banking system. Each day, thousands of people gather outside banks in the Afghan capital hoping for an opportunity to withdraw the $200 they are allowed each week.

The U.N. has warned that by the end of the year 97% of Afghans will be living below the poverty level.

More than 3.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in recent years and more than half a million in just the last month. Many are living in makeshift camps in parks in the Afghan capital. Dozens of families take shelter under tattered sheets strung across rope.

In Kabul's Shahr-e-Now Park, 63 families live in squalid conditions, many of the children are sick and the only portable bathroom has long since exceeded capacity. Women wash behind a foul smelling curtain.

Conditions will only worsen as winter approaches, said Grandi, who is scrambling to provide shelters.

``This political, military crisis, this change in government that has occurred has caught the entire population at the worst possible moment, emerging from years of insecurity,'' said Grandi. ``This is why it's so difficult now to tackle it.''

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