• AFP-JIJI

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Pakistan warned Sunday of “grave consequences” for the international community if Afghanistan’s economic meltdown continued, urging world leaders to find ways to engage with the Taliban to help prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Speaking at the opening of a special meeting of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the deepening crisis could bring mass hunger, a flood of refugees and a rise in extremism.

“We cannot ignore the danger of complete economic meltdown,” he told the gathering, which also included Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi alongside delegates from the United States, China, Russia, the European Union and U.N.

The meeting is the biggest conference on Afghanistan since the U.S.-backed government fell in August and the Taliban returned to power.

Since then, billions of dollars in aid and assets have been frozen by the international community, and the nation is in the middle of a bitter winter.

The United Nations has repeatedly warned that Afghanistan is on the brink of the world’s worst humanitarian emergency with a combined food, fuel and cash crisis.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said the world needed to separate the Taliban from ordinary Afghans.

“I speak to the United States specifically that they must delink the Afghanistan government from the 40 million Afghan citizens,” he said, “even if they have been in conflict with the Taliban for 20 years.”

He also urged caution in linking recognition of the new government to Western ideals of human rights.

“Every country is different … every society’s idea of human rights is different,” he said.

No nation has yet formally recognized the Taliban government and diplomats face the delicate task of channeling aid to the stricken Afghan economy without propping up the hard-line Islamists.

Nearly all the opening speakers made mention of the Taliban’s need to protect the rights of minorities and allow women and girls access to work and education.

Although the Taliban have promised a lighter version of the hard-line rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, women are largely excluded from government employment, and secondary schools for girls have mostly remained shuttered.

The OIC meeting was not expected to give the new Taliban government the formal international recognition it desperately craves.

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said his government “has the right to be officially recognized”.

“The current Afghanistan government is cooperating with every foreign organization”, he told reporters, adding that sanctions “must be removed.”

In a speech to delegates, he said the U.S. freezing of assets “is a clear violation of the human rights of Afghans, and can be interpreted as enmity with an entire nation”.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries to recognize the previous Taliban government.

Qureshi said the OIC was being asked to consider a six-point plan to help Afghanistan that would engage with Taliban authorities to help ease pressure on the country.

It would include coordinating aid, increasing investment, helping rebuild Afghan institutions and providing technical experts to manage the economy.

Any aid pledges were set to be announced Sunday evening.

The meeting is being held under tight security, with Islamabad on lockdown, ring-fenced with barbed wire barriers and shipping-container roadblocks where police and soldiers are standing guard.

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