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GENEVA: The United Nations urged the world to stand by Afghanistan at a pledging conference on Thursday where it is seeking a record $4.4 billion in humanitarian assistance to the broken country.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan on August 15 amid the hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces, and the country’s humanitarian crisis has rapidly worsened since.

The donor conference comes a week after the hardline closed down girls’ schools, to widespread international dismay, despite promising a softer version of their previous harsh regime, from 1996 until 2001.

While condemning the closures, the UN, Britain, Germany and Qatar, which are co-hosting the virtual pledging event, insisted the international community must not abandon the Afghan people, with 60 percent of the population needing aid to stay afloat.

And they also urged donors not to fall into the trap of neglecting the crisis in Afghanistan while seized by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Ukraine is of vital importance but Afghanistan calls to our soul for commitment and loyalty,” UN humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths told reporters, speaking from Kabul.

‘Avert the worst’

The UN is seeking triple the amount requested in 2021, but its biggest-ever single-country appeal for funds has so far only secured 13 percent of the money needed.

It said Afghanistan was on the brink of economic collapse, with more than 24 million people needing humanitarian assistance to survive.

“We need to avert the worst in Afghanistan and that’s why we’re calling on donors to step up and be generous,” said Griffiths.

The British diplomat said basic services like health and education were now “on their knees”, while millions had no access to work and people were taking out loans to survive, with 80 percent of household expenditure going on food.

Furthermore, “as if things couldn’t get any worse”, the country is suffering its worst drought in decades, he said.

The Taliban sparked outrage after ordering girls’ secondary schools to shut down just hours after allowing them to reopen for the first time since seizing power.

“We very much look forward to those positions being rescinded in the near term,” said Griffiths.

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“I hope it will not mean that the pledges we hear for this conference are limited by that.”

‘Beacon of hope’

Qatar foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said it was important for the Taliban to hear it from the Muslim world that “the teachings of Islam do not confine women”.

“While we understand the sensitivity behind pledging for Afghanistan in this climate, we stress also the importance of not isolating Afghanistan again. This legitimises radical positions,” he told reporters.

“We should be very strong in condemnation and we should be very clear in talking to the Taliban about any infringement on human rights but also we should not abandon Afghanistan. We have abandoned Afghanistan once, and we know what the result was.”

Britain announced that it will be pledging $380 million in the the next financial year, with at least 50 percent of the aid targeted at reaching women and girls.

Ansari said the goal of the conference was to give Afghans “hope for the future” by coming together and sustaining life and human rights in the country.

“Afghanistan could be a lost cause or a beacon for hope,” he said.

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