UNITED NATIONS, June 23 (Xinhua) -- A UN envoy on Thursday stressed the need to engage the Taliban, the de facto authorities in Afghanistan, despite difficulties.
"We firmly continue to believe that a strategy of continued engagement and dialogue remains to be the only way forward for the sake of the Afghan people, as well as for regional and international security," said Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN secretary-general's deputy special representative and officer-in-charge of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
"Even as the international community and the Taliban remain far apart on the question of human, woman's, and political rights, there are some areas where we can do better to improve the lives of Afghans as well as advance on issues of common concern such as counter-narcotics and mine action. Establishing an agenda of common interests will help build confidence and reduce misunderstandings," he told the Security Council.
This includes types of assistance that directly support basic human needs, while moving, where possible, beyond pure humanitarian delivery into sustaining livelihoods for ordinary Afghans, he said.
The Taliban continue to hold power almost exclusively. The emergence and persistence of an armed opposition is in large part due to political exclusion, said Alakbarov.
The overall security environment is becoming increasingly unpredictable. There are clashes between forces of the Taliban and the armed political opposition, especially in Panjshir and Baghlan provinces, as well as improvised explosive device attacks and targeted assassinations against the de facto authority figures by both armed political opposition and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), an Afghan affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group, he said.
Armed opposition attacks against the Taliban doubled in May compared to April. The number of ISKP attacks has generally decreased compared with the same period last year. But their geographic scope has widened to 11 provinces compared to six previously, he said.
"We cannot exclude the possibility of increased instability if peoples' rights are denied and if they don't see themselves in their government. Our strategy in the month ahead seeks to promote political consultation and inclusion in the long term. In the meantime, we are engaging with the de facto authorities to increase predictability in our relationship," said Alakbarov, who is also the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan.
The ongoing economic crisis is perhaps the single most important issue in Afghanistan, as a potential driver of conflict and a driver of misery, he said.
The Afghan economy has contracted an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent since the Taliban takeover in August 2021. Output and incomes have reduced by 20 percent to 30 percent, while there has been a 50 percent decline in the number of households receiving remittances, he said.
Unemployment could reach 40 percent this year, up from 13 percent in 2021, and some projections indicate that poverty rates may climb as high as 97 percent by the end of 2022. Even more alarming, 82 percent of households are now in debt while the deteriorating economy offers few chances of hope. Coping resources that helped many families get through last winter's humanitarian emergency are now being depleted, he said.
"If the economy is not able to recover and grow meaningfully and sustainably, then the Afghan people will face repeated humanitarian crises, potentially spurring mass migration and making conditions ripe for radicalization and renewed armed conflict," warned Alakbarov.
At the same time, Afghanistan remains highly vulnerable to future climate change and geopolitical shocks. This comes on top of the extreme poverty and backwardness of its rural areas, where productivity is low and education and health services are often non-existent, he added.
Afghan rural areas must be given priority attention with the focus on agricultural-food systems to prevent cycles of hunger. There is a need to help drive a grassroots economic recovery anchored in the creation of value chains and developing linkages between farmers and food producers and local markets. This will help reduce child labor, improve health outcomes, and create an enabling environment for social development and change. It also will pave the way for substitution agriculture to replace poppy cultivation, he said.
The human rights situation in Afghanistan remains precarious. Despite the adoption of a general amnesty and repeated assurances by the Taliban, UNAMA continues to receive credible allegations of killings, ill-treatment and other violations targeting individuals associated with the former government of Afghanistan. UNAMA also continues to receive credible allegations of violations committed by the Taliban against individuals accused of affiliation with the National Resistance Front and ISKP, said Alakbarov.
The Taliban have increasingly restricted the exercise of basic human rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression, quelling dissent and restricting civic space in the country. These restrictions continue to be aimed particularly at the rights and freedoms of Afghan women and girls, limiting their involvement in social, political and economic life.
"The cost to the economy of these policies is immense. The psychosocial costs of being denied education, for example, are incalculable. Women are collectively being written out of society in a way that is unique in the world," he said.