G20 leaders pledge to avert economic catastrophe in Afghanistan

Members of the G20 group of major economies have pledged to avert an economic catastrophe in Afghanistan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the country should not be allowed to “descend into chaos”.

The virtual summit came as the UN urged world leaders to put billions of dollars into the Afghan economy.

US President Joe Biden stressed that aid should be provided via independent international organisations and not directly to the ruling Taliban.

But so far the money forthcoming has largely been counted in millions, just to provide emergency food and medicine.

Pledges include a promise by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to give €1bn ($1.15bn; £850m) to Afghanistan and to neighbouring countries taking in refugees.

Mrs Merkel, who did not stand for re-election last month and will step down as chancellor once a new government is formed, reaffirmed Germany’s pledge of €600m.

“None of us has anything to gain if the entire monetary system in Afghanistan collapses or the financial system collapses,” she told reporters.

“Then humanitarian aid can no longer be provided. Of course it’s never easy to draw the line, so to speak, but to look on as 40 million people descend into chaos because there’s no electricity supply or financial system – that cannot and must not be the goal of the international community.”

The chancellor said the Taliban must grant access to all UN bodies delivering aid, and stressed the need for the rights and girls and women to be respected.

Mrs Merkel’s words were echoed by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who was hosting the virtual summit.

He said G20 countries had to have contact with the Taliban but that did not mean recognition of the Islamist group’s government.

Not all G20 leaders were present – Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin sent representatives – but Mr Draghi said all participants had agreed on the need to provide more aid.

The leaders also discussed ways to prevent Afghanistan becoming a haven for militants such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, and the need to provide safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans hoping to leave Afghanistan.

The summit came as Western and Afghan officials met in Qatar to discuss aid, terrorism concerns and evacuation of foreigners.

These were the first direct talks between the two sides since US troops left Afghanistan and the Taliban took power in August. (Courtesy BBC)

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