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Pakistan seeks to rally Muslim world to support neighboring Afghanistan amid economic collapse

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ISLAMABAD (AP) – Pakistan rallies Muslim countries to help Afghanistan avert economic and humanitarian catastrophe while cajoling the new Taliban rulers in the neighboring country to soften their image abroad.

Several foreign ministers from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation met in Islamabad on Sunday to explore ways to help Afghanistan while navigating the difficult political realities of its Taliban-led government, said Pakistan’s top diplomat on Friday.

The new Taliban administration in Kabul has been sanctioned by the international community, shaken by the collapse of the Afghan army and the West-backed government in the face of the insurgent takeover in mid-August.

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The OIC meeting is an engagement that does not constitute official recognition of the Taliban regime, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said.

He said the message to the rally on Sunday read: “Please don’t give up on Afghanistan. Thank you for engaging. We speak on behalf of the Afghan people. We are not talking about any particular group. We are talking about the Afghan people.

Qureshi said major powers – including the United States, Russia, China and the European Union – would send their special representatives to Afghanistan at the one-day summit. Taliban-appointed Afghan Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi will also attend the conference.

Afghanistan faces imminent economic collapse and humanitarian catastrophe as a result of the Taliban takeover. Billions of dollars in the country’s assets abroad, mostly in the United States, have been frozen and the country’s international funding has ceased.

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The world is also waiting before extending any formal recognition to Kabul’s new rulers, fearing that the Taliban will impose a regime as harsh as when they were in power 20 years ago – despite their assurances to the contrary.

In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Muttaqi said the new Afghan leadership is committed to educating girls and women in the workforce.

Yet four months after Taliban rule, girls are not allowed to attend high school in most provinces and although women have returned to work in much of the health sector, many female civil servants were prevented from working.

However, security has improved under the Taliban, with aid agencies able to reach most parts of Afghanistan, including areas that were closed for years during the war, a senior humanitarian official said. who requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The World Health Organization and United Nations agencies have warned of the humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan and its 38 million people. Hospitals are critically short of medicines, up to 95% of all households face food shortages, the poverty level is reaching 90% and the afghani, the national currency, is in free fall.

Pakistan has been at the forefront of the push for global engagement in Afghanistan. Qureshi said on Friday he warned in talks with many foreign ministers – including with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington – that a total collapse in Afghanistan would hurt counterterrorism efforts and would trigger a massive exodus from the country.

The refugees will become economic migrants, he added, which means they will not want to stay in neighboring countries of Pakistan and Iran, but will try to reach Europe and North America. .

Qureshi also warned that if Afghans are left unaided, militant groups such as Al-Qaida and the regional Islamic State affiliate will regroup and thrive amid the chaos.

The OIC has influence due to its nature as an Islamic organization and Qureshi expressed hope that the summit will also provide an opportunity for the Muslim nations of the world to put pressure on the Taliban to allow the girls to go to school at all levels and women to return to their jobs in full.

Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said OIC countries could do more, suggesting that they work through their religious scholars and have them interact directly with the Taliban.

For now, it would be difficult for the West to engage with the Taliban, Kugelman said, adding that such interaction would be tantamount to admitting defeat in the 20 Years War.

For the Taliban, it would be “the ultimate satisfaction to be able to engage … with a winning perspective,” he said.

“The Taliban defeated the West (…) their powerful armies and made them suffer with a chaotic and humiliating final withdrawal,” he said. “For the West to turn around and bury the hatchet with the Taliban would be tantamount to legitimizing its defeat.”

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