Humanitarian crisis in focus as Italy hosts G20 Afghan summit

Humanitarian crisis in focus as Italy hosts G20 Afghan summit


Rome: As concerns about the imminent humanitarian disaster after the Taliban return to power have intensified, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will host a special summit of the major G20 economies on Tuesday to discuss Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, the country-after decades of war, struggling with drought and severe poverty-its economy has almost collapsed, triggering the specter of refugee outflows.

The video conference, which is due to start at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), will focus on aid needs, concerns over security and ways of guaranteeing safe passage abroad for thousands of Western-allied Afghans still in the country.

“Providing humanitarian support is urgent for the most vulnerable groups, especially women and children, with winter arriving,” said an official with knowledge of the G20 agenda.

The U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres is due to join the summit, underlining the central role given to the United Nations in tackling the crisis – in part because many countries don’t want to establish direct relations with the Taliban.

Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the G20, has worked hard to set up the meeting in the face of highly divergent views within the disparate group on how to deal with Afghanistan after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Kabul.

“The main problem is that Western countries want to put their finger on the way the Taliban run the country, how they treat women for example, while China and Russia on the other hand have a non-interference foreign policy,” said a diplomatic source close to the matter.

China has publicly demanded that the economic sanctions on Afghanistan be lifted, and Afghanistan’s billions of dollars of international assets should be unfrozen and returned to Kabul. It is unclear whether this will be discussed on Tuesday.

Although US President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of the European Group of Twenty are expected to attend the meeting, Chinese media reported that President Xi Jinping will not attend. It is unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will dial in.

Afghanistan’s neighbours Pakistan and Iran have not been invited to the virtual call, but Qatar, which has played a key role as an interlocutor between the Taliban and the West, will join the discussions, a diplomatic source said.

The virtual summit comes just days after senior U.S. and Taliban officials met in Qatar for their first face-to-face meeting since the hardline group retook power. 

Tuesday’s meeting is less than three weeks from the official G20 summit in Rome from October 30 to 31. The focus of this summit is on climate change, global economic recovery, addressing malnutrition and the COVID-19 pandemic. .

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