UN urges release of Afghanistan's frozen assets to prevent 'severe economic downturn'

UN urges release of Afghanistan's frozen assets to prevent 'severe economic downturn'
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The United Nations on Thursday called for Afghanistan’s frozen assets to be released to avoid a "a severe economic downturn,” two days after the Taliban formed an interim government, Reuters reported.

"The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender, and counter-terrorism perspective," Deborah Lyons, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Afghanistan, said to the security council.

Lyons also addressed worries that the Taliban would wrongly use the funds, saying safeguards should be placed around the assets. 

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The plea comes amid a grim prediction that most Afghans could be plunged into poverty by the middle of next year, according to a U.N. development agency.

Afghanistan is locked out of some $10 billion in assets housed abroad, which Western countries are using as an incentive to get the Taliban to cooperate with their demands. 

"The Taliban seeks international legitimacy and support. Our message is simple: any legitimacy and support will have to be earned," Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a senior diplomat for the U.S., said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

However, countries including Russia and China have already signaled openness to working with a Taliban regime.

China's deputy U.N. ambassador said Thursday the frozen funds should not to be used as "leverage for threats or restraints," according to Reuters.

The insurgent group says it will continue to adhere to its interpretation of Islamic law, but will be less brutal than when it last rules the country — recognizing the rights of women, forming an inclusive government and refraining from taking retribution against former enemies. 

However, the interim government formed this week is made up entirely of men and mostly hardline members of the Taliban. Protests demanding woman's rights this week were met with gunfire, arrests and the beating of journalists