By RFE/RL’s Tajik Service
September 17, 2021
Leaders of the Russia- and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) have urged the world to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets and boost assistance to the war-torn nation as it teeters on the brink of crisis following the Taliban’s return to power last month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, told a CSTO summit in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, on September 17 that failure to provide necessary support to Afghanistan could allow terrorism and drugs to flourish while pushing the country into a full-blown humanitarian crisis — a perspective that has raised alarm of the potential for tens of thousands of refugees to pour over the border.
Founded 20 years ago to combat what it calls the “three evils” of separatism, extremism, and terrorism, the Eurasian security bloc initially consisted of China, Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan before India and Pakistan joined in 2017.
In Dushanbe, CSTO leaders also said they were beginning the process of accepting Iran into the organization.
Since Taliban militants swept into Kabul on August 15, some $9 billion in foreign reserves of Afghanistan’s central bank have been frozen — most of it held in the United States.
The International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, foreign governments, and other donors have suspended payments to Afghanistan, while ordinary bank transfers to individuals in the country also have been blocked, leaving ordinary Afghans reeling from rocketing inflation, rising poverty, cash shortages, a plummeting currency, and rising unemployment.
The Biden administration has said that any central-bank assets the Afghan government has in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban for the time being.
Even before Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s economy was extremely fragile. Propped up for 20 years by foreign aid, about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product was the result of international assistance.
Addressing the SCO summit via video link, Putin insisted that the organization should do its “utmost” to prevent the threats of “terrorism, drug trafficking, and religious extremism” emanating from Afghanistan.
He added that the security bloc should “use its potential” to “stimulate the new Afghan authorities” in fulfilling their promises on normalizing life and bringing security in Afghanistan.
“I think it also makes sense to work with the United States [and] other Western countries for a gradual unfreezing of Afghanistan’s reserves and restoring programs through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” he added while blaming Washington in large part for the current situation, saying it should bear the “main part” of the expenses related to the rebuilding process.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev, whose country borders Afghanistan, called for efforts to prevent the rise of extremism in Afghanistan, saying that unfreezing the assets kept in foreign banks could help achieve these goals by facilitating dialogue with the Taliban-led government in Kabul.
China’s Xi said SCO member nations should help to drive a smooth transition in Afghanistan and assist it in developing an inclusive political structure that would see it follow moderate internal and external policies, according to Chinese state media.
Beijing has called on the Taliban to hold to its pledge to restrain militants seeking independence for the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan called for economic support for Afghanistan to “prevent a humanitarian crisis and an economic meltdown.”
“We must remember that the previous government depended heavily on foreign aid and its removal could lead to economic collapse,” Khan said, adding that Islamabad thinks that “positive engagement of the international community with Afghanistan is extremely important.”
Pakistan has been accused of supporting the group as it battled the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for 20 years — a charge denied by Islamabad.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon called for “bolstering the capability of the SCO’s regional anti-terrorist structure and stepping up the interaction of our countries’ law enforcement agencies and special services” in order to counter the “challenges and threats” emanating from neighboring Afghanistan.
Rahmon expressed serious concern over the situation in Panjshir Valley, the last pocket of resistance to the Taliban’s takeover, reiterating his call for the international community to provide emergency assistance to the province, which he said has been under a “complete [Taliban] blockade for about two months.”
Kazakhstan’s President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev proposed the organization of a hub in the southeastern Kazakh city of Almaty for international aid to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan also holds observer status at the SCO, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this week that the Taliban had not been invited to observe proceedings in the Tajik capital.
The SCO summit came a day after leaders of another regional security bloc — the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) — also held talks in Tajikistan’s capital.
The two days of talks come as Moscow and Beijing move to assert themselves as key players in the region following the rapid collapse of the Western-backed government in Kabul at the end of a 20-year U.S.-led military mission in Afghanistan.
Both security groupings have been viewed as Moscow’s and Beijing’s counters to U.S. geopolitical dominance.
Meanwhile, Italy’s Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in an interview published on September 17 that an ad-hoc summit of the Group of 20 major economies to discuss Afghanistan will be held after the United Nations Assembly in New York ends on September 30.
Di Maio told daily la Repubblica that Rome, which holds the rotating G20 presidency this year, has asked for agencies of the United Nations and nonprofit organizations active in Afghanistan to be involved in the talks.
With reporting by Reuters, TASS, and AFP
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