Afghanistan’s supreme leader called again Friday for the international community to recognise the Taliban government, saying the world had become a “small village” and proper diplomatic relations would help solve the country’s problems.
No nation has formally recognised the regime installed by the Taliban after they seized power in August and reintroduced the hardline Islamist rule that is increasingly excluding women from public life.
In a written message ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, supreme leader Hibatullah Akhundzada did not mention international sticking points — including reopening secondary schools for girls.
Instead, he said recognition should come first “so that we may address our problems formally and within diplomatic norms and principles”.
“Undoubtedly, the world has transformed into a small village,” said Akhundzada, who has not been seen in public for years and lives reclusively in Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual heartland.
“Afghanistan has its role in world peace and stability. According to this need, the world should recognise the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
His Eid message comes as the country has been rocked by a series of bomb blasts — some claimed by the jihadist Islamic State group and targeting the minority Shiite Hazara community.
Akhundzada made no mention of insecurity, but said the country had been able to build “a strong Islamic and national army”, as well as “a strong intelligence organisation”.
Link aid to rights
Many in the international community want humanitarian aid and recognition to be linked to the restoration of women’s rights.
Tens of thousands of women lost their government jobs after the Taliban takeover, and they have also been barred from leaving the country — or even travelling between cities — unless accompanied by a male relative.
In March, the Taliban prompted global outrage by shutting all secondary schools for girls just hours after allowing them to reopen for the first time since they seized power.
Several Taliban officials said the ban was personally ordered by Akhundzada.
Akhundzada’s Eid message didn’t touch on girls’ schools, but he did say authorities were opening new centres and madrassas for both “religious and modern education”.
“We respect and are committed to all the sharia rights of men and women in Afghanistan… do not use this humanitarian and emotional issue as a tool for political ends,” he said.
But he said people should willingly embrace the Taliban ideals, and not be forced.
“The relevant authorities should invite people towards sharia with wisdom and avoid extremism in this regard,” he added.
He said also the government was committed to freedom of speech according to “Islamic values”, although hundreds of news outlets have closed, public broadcasts of music banned, and movies and TV dramas featuring women taken off air.
Akhundzada, believed to be in his 70s, has been the spiritual leader of the hardline Islamist movement since 2016 but has remained in the shadows despite the Taliban enjoying largely uncontested power.
His absence from public life has fed speculation he may be dead and his edicts the product of a committee.
Still, in October the Taliban released an audio recording they said was him addressing a madrassa in Kandahar.
A blast ripped through a mosque during Friday prayers in northern Afghanistan, killing 33 people and wounding 43 more, a Taliban spokesman said, just a day after the Islamic State group claimed two separate deadly attacks.
Since Taliban fighters seized control of Afghanistan last year after ousting the US-backed government, the number of bombings has fallen but the jihadist and Sunni IS has continued with attacks against targets they see as heretical.
A string of bombings rocked the country this week, with deadly attacks targeting a school and a mosque in Shiite neighbourhoods.
Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid tweeted that children were among the 33 dead in the blast on Friday at a mosque in the northern province of Kunduz.
“We condemn this crime… and express our deepest sympathies to the bereaved,” he said, adding 43 more were wounded.
Images posted to social media — which could not be immediately verified — showed holes blown through the walls of the Mawlavi Sikandar mosque, popular with Sufis in the Imam Sahib district, north of Kunduz city.
Jihadist groups such as IS bear a deep hatred for Sufis who they view as heretics and accuse them of polytheism — the greatest sin in Islam — for seeking the intercession of dead saints.
“The sight at the mosque was horrifying. All those who were worshipping inside the mosque were either injured or killed,” Mohammad Esah, a shopkeeper who helped ferry victims to the district hospital, told AFP.
“I saw 20 to 30 bodies,” another local resident said.
Relatives of victims were arriving at hospital to look for their loved ones.
“My son is martyred,” screamed a man, while a woman accompanied by her four children searched for her husband.
A nurse told AFP over the phone that between 30 to 40 people had been admitted for treatment of wounds from the blast.
Kunduz police said they were investigating the type of explosion.
Multiple Bomb Blasts
Friday’s blast was one of the biggest attacks since the Taliban seized power in August last year.
In October, a suicide attack at a Shiite mosque, also in Kunduz, killed at least 55 people and wounded scores — an attack also claimed by IS.
The regional IS branch has repeatedly targeted Shiites and minorities like Sufis in Afghanistan.
IS is a Sunni Islamist group like the Taliban, but the two are bitter rivals.
The biggest ideological difference between the two is that the Taliban sought only an Afghanistan free of foreign forces, whereas IS wants an Islamic caliphate stretching from Turkey to Pakistan and beyond.
Friday’s blast comes a day after IS claimed a bomb attack at a Shiite mosque in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif that killed at least 12 worshippers and left 58 people injured.
They also claimed a separate attack in Kunduz city on Thursday, which killed four people and wounded 18.
No group has yet to claim twin blasts on a boys’ school in a Shiite neighbourhood of Kabul on Tuesday, which killed six and wounded more than 25.
Shiite Afghans, who are mostly from the Hazara community, make up between 10 and 20 percent of Afghanistan’s population of 38 million.
Sufis, also a minority in Sunni majority Afghanistan, have faced several attacks in the past. In November 2018, a suicide attack at a wedding in Kabul killed dozens, most of them Sufis.
Earlier on Friday, the Taliban authorities said they had arrested the IS “mastermind” of Thursday’s bombing at the mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.
Taliban authorities flogged seven men Wednesday for crimes including selling and consuming alcohol, an official said — the first such sentence to be handed out by Afghanistan’s courts since the hardline Islamists seized power.
The lashings were a grim reminder of the harsh punishments the Taliban delivered during their first regime between 1996 and 2001.
The seven accused had confessed to their crimes and were sentenced to 35 lashes each, the Supreme Court said in a statement.
“The punishment was carried out today” in the capital, Supreme Court official Abdul Basir Mashal told AFP.
“It is the first time that a court has issued such an order according to the sharia law since the Islamic Emirate was formed in Afghanistan,” he said.
Taliban fighters have reportedly carried out floggings without court orders since taking power, according to social media posts that could not be independently verified.
The seven men had been charged in separate cases for offences such as selling and consuming alcohol, as well as stealing cars, the court statement said.
Five were also sentenced to six months in jail.
During their first stint in power, the Taliban earned notoriety for their strict interpretation of sharia law that punished even petty crimes with public floggings and executions.
The rulings at that time were particularly harsh for women, with those who broke the rules suffering humiliation and public beatings by the regime’s feared religious police.
The Taliban had also carried out public executions, chopped off the hands and feet of thieves, and stoned women accused of adultery.
When they seized power last year they promised a softer version of their previous rule, but insisted it would still be guided by sharia law.
Over the past eight months, the Taliban have cracked down on several freedoms women enjoyed for 20 years under the previous Western-backed government.
Women have been effectively shut out of most government jobs, and ordered to dress according to the Taliban’s strict interpretation of the Koran.
They have also been ordered to stop boarding flights unless escorted by a “mahram”, or adult male relative, and are banned from solo inter-city travel.
At least six people were killed and 24 wounded on Tuesday by two bomb blasts that struck a boys’ school in a Shiite Hazara neighbourhood of the Afghan capital, police and hospital staff said.
The number of attacks in Afghanistan has significantly declined since the Taliban ousted the US-backed government in August, but the jihadist Islamic State group has claimed several since then.
Several bodies were strewn outside the gate of the school in the densely populated Shiite Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood in Kabul, alongside patches of blood, burnt books and school bags, according to images posted on social media.
“We were leaving school and had just stepped out from the rear gate when the explosion occurred,” Ali Jan, a student who was wounded in the first blast, told AFP at a hospital.
The second blast took place as rescuers arrived to ferry victims from the first explosion to hospitals.
“Some of our friends have lost hands, while some were covered in blood,” said Saeed Rahmatullah Haidari, a student at the school.
“There were pieces of broken glass and pools of blood… my whole body was shaking.”
Outside a hospital treating the wounded, Taliban fighters beat back the families of students who had gathered, slapping or pushing some of them as they searched for information.
Women cried out as they scanned through pictures of victims posted on nearby walls by medics.
Kabul police spokesman Khalid Zadran told AFP that the attack outside the Abdul Rahim Shahid school was caused by two improvised explosive devices, killing six people.
A grenade was also thrown at a nearby English language centre in the same area, wounding one person, he later said.
Two hospitals said they were treating 24 wounded patients.
Amnesty International condemned Tuesday’s ‘reprehensible attacks’ against the Hazara community.
“It also shows that the Taliban, as the de-facto authorities, are failing to protect civilians, especially those from ethnic and religious minority groups, from harm,” Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner Samira Hamidi said in a statement.
The European Union’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, said those behind the “heinous” attacks must be held accountable.
The Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood is mainly home to the Hazara community and has been previously targeted by the Islamic State group — a rival of the Taliban, also a hardline Sunni Islamist movement.
The Hazara community, which makes up between 10 and 20 per cent of the country’s 38 million people, has long been the target of mass-casualty attacks, some blamed on the Taliban during their 20-year insurgency.
Since seizing power the Taliban have regularly carried out raids on suspected IS hideouts, mainly in the eastern Nangarhar province.
Taliban officials insist their forces have defeated IS, but analysts say the jihadist group is a key security challenge.
It has claimed some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent years.
In May last year at least 85 people — mainly girl students — were killed and about 300 wounded when three bombs exploded near their school in Dasht-e-Barchi.
No group claimed responsibility, but in October 2020 IS claimed a suicide attack on an educational centre in the same area that killed 24, including students.
In May 2020, the group was blamed for a bloody gun attack on a maternity ward of a hospital in the neighbourhood that killed 25 people, including new mothers.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine must not make the world forget Afghanistan, the UN refugee chief said on Tuesday, warning that ignoring its humanitarian needs could be “very risky”.
UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi, who is on four day visit to Afghanistan, said the international community must continue to engage with Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities as the country desperately needed humanitarian assistance.
“The whole attention of the world at the moment is focussed on Ukraine,” Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told AFP at a UN compound in the Afghan capital.
“But my message coming here is, don’t forget the other situations, where attention and resources are needed and Afghanistan is one of them.
“The risks of distraction are very high, very high … Humanitarian assistance has to flow no matter how many other crises compete with Afghanistan around the world.”
The Taliban seized power on August 15 amid a hasty withdrawal of US-led foreign forces, and since then the country’s humanitarian crisis has deepened.
The United Nations and other global aid agencies have said that more than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing hunger this winter.
In January, the UN made its biggest-ever single-country aid appeal, calling for $5 billion to avert a humanitarian catastrophe.
But Grandi said that the war in Ukraine has already started to make it difficult to raise funds for Afghanistan.
UNHCR itself had made an appeal of $340 million for Afghanistan for 2022 but so far has managed to raise about $100 million, he said.
“So, we need to push because the needs are the same now as they were in September” just after the Taliban takeover, he added.
“Generous response has to continue” for Afghanistan, a country that has up to six million of its citizens living as refugees abroad.
Grandi, who acknowledged that the security situation across the country had improved since the Taliban came to power, said that aid related discussions with the Islamists have been increasingly “frank and open”.
If the Taliban continue to make progress on issues like women’s rights then steady international aid will also continue to come to Afghanistan, he said.
Global donors led by Washington have insisted that any foreign aid will depend on the Taliban’s policy when it comes to women’s rights to education and work.
Since coming to power the Taliban have imposed several restrictions on women, but have said that secondary schools for girls would reopen soon.
“We will see in few days when schools reopen, then the international community will take note,” Grandi said.
“When 25 years ago this country fell off the radar screen, it ended very badly … we can not go down the same road. I hope that common sense will prevail,” he said, referring to a brutal civil war that erupted in the 1990s after the withdrawal of then Soviet forces.
The World Bank on Tuesday announced more than $1 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, stating the money will go to UN agencies and international NGOs while remaining “outside the control” of the country’s Taliban rulers.
The reallocation from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) follows the $280 million in ARTF funds disbursed last December and is aimed at supporting the humanitarian response over the critical winter months.
The funds, to be delivered in the form of grants, aim “to support the delivery of essential basic services, protect vulnerable Afghans, help preserve human capital and key economic and social services and reduce the need for humanitarian assistance in the future,” the Washington-based lender said in a statement.
The bank suspended its aid to Kabul late last August after the hardline Islamist Taliban swept back into power.
ARTF is a multi-donor fund that coordinates international aid to improve the lives of millions of Afghans. It is administered by the World Bank on behalf of donor partners.
Until the Taliban took over, the ARTF was the largest source of development funding for Afghanistan, financing up to 30 percent of the government’s budget.
Because the World Bank is unable to provide money directly to the Taliban regime — which is not recognized by the international community — it has redirected the funds to organizations like the UN children’s agency UNICEF in response to the humanitarian crisis.
Afghanistan’s population has faced food shortages and mounting poverty since the Taliban took over.
The objective of the new aid is to “protect vulnerable Afghans (and) help preserve human capital and key economic and social services,” the World Bank said.
One after the other, quickly, carefully, keeping their heads down, a group of Afghan women step into a small Kabul apartment block — risking their lives as a nascent resistance against the Taliban.
They come together to plan their next stand against the hardline Islamist regime, which took back power in Afghanistan in August and stripped them of their dreams.
At first, there were no more than 15 activists in this group, mostly women in their 20s who already knew each other.
Now there is a network of dozens of women –- once students, teachers or NGO workers, as well as housewives — that have worked in secret to organise protests over the past six months.
“I asked myself why not join them instead of staying at home, depressed, thinking of all that we lost,” a 20-year-old protester, who asked not to be named, tells AFP.
They know such a challenge to the new authorities may cost them everything.
Four of their colleagues were recently seized for weeks until the UN confirmed their release on Sunday.
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, they became notorious for human rights abuses, with women mostly confined to their homes.
Now back in government and despite promising a softer rule, they are cracking down on women’s freedoms once again.
There is enforced segregation in most workplaces, leading many employers to fire female staff, and women are barred from key public sector jobs.
Many girls’ secondary schools have closed, and university curriculums are being revised to reflect their hardline interpretation of Islam.
Haunted by memories of the last Taliban regime, some Afghan women are too frightened to venture out or are pressured by their families to remain at home.
For mother-of-four Shala, who asked AFP to only use her first name, a return to such female confinement is her biggest fear.
A former government employee, her job has already been taken from her, so now she helps organise the resistance and sometimes sneaks out at night to paint graffiti slogans such as “Long Live Equality” across the walls of the nation’s capital.
“I just want to be an example for young women, to show them that I will not give up the fight,” she explains.
The Taliban could harm her family, but Shala says her husband supports what she is doing and her children are learning from her defiance — at home, they practise chants demanding education.
‘Fear can’t control me’
AFP journalists attended two of the group’s gatherings in January.
Despite the risk of being arrested and taken by the Taliban, or shunned by their families and society more than 40 women came to one event.
At another meeting, a few women were fervently preparing for their next protest.
One activist designed a banner demanding justice, a cellphone in one hand and her pen in the other.
“These are our only weapons,” she says.
A 24-year-old, who asked not to be named, helped brainstorm ideas for attracting the world’s attention.
“It’s dangerous but we have no other way. We have to accept that our path is fraught with challenges,” she insists.
Like others, she stood up to her conservative family, including an uncle who threw away her books to keep her from learning.
“I don’t want to let fear control me and prevent me from speaking and telling the truth,” she insists.
Allowing people to join their ranks is a meticulous process.
Hoda Khamosh, a published poet and former NGO worker who organised workshops to help empower women, is tasked with ensuring newcomers can be trusted.
One test she sets is to ask them to prepare banners or slogans at short notice — she can sense the passion for the cause from women who deliver quickly.
Other tests yield even clearer results.
Hoda recounts the time they gave a potential activist a fake date and time for a demonstration.
The Taliban turned up ahead of the supposed protest, and all contact was cut with the woman suspected of tipping off officials.
A core group of activists use a dedicated phone number to coordinate on the day of a protest. That number is later disconnected to ensure it is not being tracked.
“We usually carry an extra scarf or an extra dress. When the demonstration is over, we change our clothes so we cannot be recognised,” Hoda explains.
She has changed her phone number several times and her husband has received threats.
“We could still be harmed, it’s exhausting. But all we can do is persevere,” she adds.
The activist was one of a few women flown to Norway to meet face to face with the Taliban’s leadership last month, alongside other civil society members, when the first talks on European soil were held between the West and Afghanistan’s new government.
Crackdown on dissent
In the 20 years since the Taliban last held power, a generation of women — largely in major cities — became business owners, studied PHDs, and held government positions.
The battle to defend those gains requires defiance.
On protest days, women turn up in twos or threes, waiting outside shops as if they are ordinary shoppers, then at the last minute rush together: some 20 people chanting as they unfurl their banners.
Swiftly, and inevitably, the Taliban’s armed fighters surround them — sometimes holding them back, other times screaming and pointing guns to scare the women away.
One activist recalls slapping a fighter in the face, while another led protest chants despite a masked gunman pointing his weapon at her.
But it is becoming increasingly dangerous to protest as authorities crackdown on dissent.
A few days after the planning meeting attended by AFP, Taliban fighters used pepper spray on the resistance demonstrators for the first time, angry as the group had painted a white burqa red to reject wearing the all-covering dress.
Two of the women who took part in the protests — Tamana Zaryabi Paryani and Parwana Ibrahimkhel — were later rounded up in a series of night raids on January 19.
Shortly before she was taken, footage of Paryani was shared on social media showing her in distress, warning of Taliban fighters at her door.
In the video, Tamana calls out: “Kindly help! Taliban have come to our home in Parwan 2. My sisters are at home.”
It shows her telling the men behind the door: “If you want to talk, we’ll talk tomorrow. I cannot meet you in the night with these girls. I don’t want to (open the door)… Please! Help, help!”
Several women interviewed by AFP before the raids, who spoke of “non-stop threats”, later went into hiding.
The UN also demanded information about two more female activists allegedly detained two weeks ago, named by rights advocates Zahra Mohammadi and Mursal Ayar.
Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any women were being held but said authorities had the right “to arrest and detain dissidents or those who break the law”, after the government banned unsanctioned protests soon after coming to power.
On Sunday the UN said all four women were released after being held by the “de facto authorities” of Afghanistan.
Starting from scratch
The women are learning to adapt quickly.
When they began the movement last September, demonstrations would end as soon as one of the participants was pushed or threatened by the Taliban.
Hoda says they have now developed a system where two activists take care of the victim, allowing the others — and the protest — to continue.
As the Taliban prevents media coverage of protests, many of the female activists use their phones to take photos and videos to post on social media.
The content, often featuring them defiantly showing their faces, can then reach an international audience.
“These women… had to create something from scratch,” says Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch.
“There are a lot of very experienced women activists who have been working in Afghanistan for many years… but almost all of them left after August 15,” she adds.
“(The Taliban) don’t tolerate dissent. They have beaten other protesters, they have beaten journalists who cover the protests, very brutally. They’ve gone and looked for protesters and protest organisers afterwards.”
Barr believes it is “almost certain” those involved with this new resistance will experience harm.
A separate, smaller women’s group is now trying to focus on the protest that avoids direct confrontation with the Taliban.
“When I am out on the streets my heart and body shake,” said Wahida Amiri.
The 33-year-old used to work as a librarian. Sharp and articulate, she is used to fighting for justice having previously campaigned against corruption in the previous government.
Now that is no longer possible, she sometimes meets a small circle of friends in the safety of their homes, where they film themselves holding candlelit vigils and raising banners demanding the right to education and work.
They write articles and attend debates on audio apps Clubhouse or Twitter, hoping social media will show the world their story.
“I have never worked as hard as I have in the past five months,” she says.
Hoda’s biggest dream was to be Afghanistan’s president, and it is difficult for her to accept that her political work is now limited.
“If we do not fight for our future today, Afghan history will repeat itself,” the 26-year-old told AFP from her home.
“If we do not get our rights we will end up stuck at home, between four walls. This is something we cannot tolerate,” she said.
Kabul’s resistance is not alone. There have been small, scattered protests by women in other Afghan cities, including Bamiyan, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.
“(The Taliban) have erased us from society and politics,” Amiri says.
“We may not succeed. All we want is to keep the voice of justice raised high, and instead of five women, we want thousands to join us.”
Strolling through the town of Maymana, the new mayor appears to inspire goodwill from war-weary constituents in the Afghan provincial capital.
But Damullah Mohibullah Mowaffaq has a reputation as one of the top snipers in the ranks of the Taliban, until last summer waging war to take control of the country.
Mowaffaq was made mayor of Maymana, capital of Faryab province in the far reaches of northwest Afghanistan, in November, three months after the Taliban ousted the Western-backed government and seized power.
He rose to prominence as a fighter, but now his schedule is packed with the daily tasks of local government — unblocking sewers, planning roads, and smoothing over neighbourhood quarrels.
His switch reflects the broader transformation that the Taliban are undergoing, as the insurgents grapple with administering the territory.
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“When I was fighting my objectives were very specific: to end the foreign occupation, discrimination and injustice,” the 25-year-old told AFP.
“Now my goals are also clear: to fight corruption and make the country prosper.”
‘Ups and downs’
On a walk through the streets of Maymana, the new mayor talks with municipal workers clearing roadside gutters.
Residents of the city of 100,000 approaches with complaints and suggestions, which are dutifully added to an ever-growing to-do list.
“The new mayor is young, well-educated and, very importantly, from the city,” says his non-Taliban deputy, Sayed Ahmad Shah Gheyasi.
“He knows how to deal with people.”
Unlike the poor, madrassa-educated rural men who make up the Taliban rank and file, Mowaffaq comes from a family of wealthy traders and grew up in Maymana, where he excelled at school and in sport.
Memorabilia from his youth decorates his office including a certificate from a martial arts competition as well as his high school diploma.
After joining the insurgency at 19, he was promoted to command a small unit deployed in Faryab province.
Others describe him as one of the Taliban’s most talented snipers, although he appears reluctant to be drawn into telling war stories.
But on walkabout with AFP he pauses in front of a house blemished with munition marks near the village of Doraye Khoija Qoshre, where his unit once held sway.
Here he used to hide himself away, scoping American troops with his rifle and honing a reputation as a crack shot.
“He killed an American with his rifle from this house, then a plane came and bombed him,” said Saifaddin, a local farmer, who like many in Afghanistan goes by one name.
Although it cannot be confirmed Mowaffaq was responsible, in mid-2019 the United States announced a member of their special forces had been killed in fighting in Faryab.
A year earlier, the Afghan Analysts Network said Maymana was “practically under siege” owing to “an astonishingly widespread Taliban presence”.
Mowaffaq witnessed several comrades killed in the fighting but remains evasive about the horrors he both inflicted and suffered.
“I have had many ups and downs,” he says.
The United Nations and rights groups have accused the Taliban of gross human rights abuses since they seized power in August.
The deaths of more than 100 members of the former government or security forces have been blamed on the country’s new rulers, while women activists have been detained and journalists were beaten for covering their protests.
The Taliban ideal of a thick beard and black turban may frame Mowaffaq’s face, but in many ways he is an unconventional totem of their austere ideology.
Nationwide the Islamists have effectively evicted women from the public sphere, shutting older girls out of education and largely barring the opposite sex from the workplace.
But in Mowaffaq’s office, female employees have been allowed to keep working, and a public garden in the city is reserved for them.
Under the first Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001, the all-covering burqa was mandatory for women.
This time religious police have stopped short of making the same diktat — although they have issued orders for women in the capital to cover their faces.
In the Maymana mayor’s office, “nobody tells us how to dress,” said Qahera, his 26-year-old female director of human resources, who wears a hijab in line with current dress requirements.
The Taliban’s lightning takeover of Afghanistan took even the movement’s members by surprise.
Their efforts to run the country are hamstrung by sheer inexperience, brain drain, a humanitarian crisis, and pressure from Western powers which have frozen assets.
Britain said Tuesday it will co-host a virtual UN summit aimed at raising $4.4 billion to alleviate a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan since the Taliban seized power.
With the fundamentalist regime now denied access to Western funds, the United Nations says more than 24 million Afghans need urgent help to survive, and half the population is facing acute hunger.
The UN said last month that $4.4 billion was needed, as it launched its largest appeal yet for a single country.
Donor countries, UN agencies and Afghan civil society are set to take part in the online event next month, the UK government and UN said in a joint statement, without giving a date.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the summit would focus on delivering food, shelter and health services, particularly for women and girls who are once again shut out of public life under the Taliban.
“The conference is a critical moment for the international community to step up support in an effort to stop the growing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan,” Truss said.
“The scale of need is unparallelled, and consequences of inaction will be devastating. The UK is determined to lead the global effort,” she added.
Britain says it has committed £286 million ($390 million, 340 million euros) to support Afghans in the past year, including an emergency donation of £97 million last month, and UK diplomats visited Kabul last week for talks with the Taliban regime.
The funds are being channelled through “trusted UN agencies” and charities on the ground, rather than directly to the Taliban, the UK government said.
However, the government has faced criticism for slashing its aid budget overall, including for Afghanistan.
Martin Griffiths, the UN’s deputy chief for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief, urged other donors to step up “to save the lives and futures of Afghans”.
“Every day of delay means more misery for the Afghan people. They need a lifeline,” the British UN official said.
Four women activists in Afghanistan have been released by the country’s “de facto authorities” after going missing weeks ago, the United Nations said Sunday.
“After a long period of uncertainty about their whereabouts and safety, the four ‘disappeared’ Afghan women activists, as well as their relatives who also went missing, have all been released by the de facto authorities,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said on Twitter.
Tamana Zaryabi Paryani, Parwana Ibrahimkhel, Zahra Mohammadi and Mursal Ayar went missing after participating in an anti-Taliban rally, but Afghanistan’s hardline Islamist rulers had consistently denied detaining them.
AFP reported the release of Ibrahimkhel late on Friday. She went missing along with Paryani on January 19, days after taking part in a rally in Kabul calling for women’s right to work and education.
Weeks later, Mohammadi and Ayar went missing.
The Taliban, whose government is still not recognised by any country, have promised a softer version of the harsh rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.
But since storming back to power in August, they have cracked down on dissent by forcefully dispersing women’s rallies, detaining critics and often beating local journalists covering unsanctioned protests.
Those who died were the truck driver and passengers on the minibus, Fars news agency reported, citing an official from the province’s Red Crescent.
The Ahvaz-Khorramshahr road is 100 kilometres (62 miles) long and sees significant truck activity to and from the Shalamsheh border crossing with Iraq, according to Iranian media.
Although its roads are generally in good condition, Iran has one of the world’s highest traffic death rates partly because of poor driving habits, as well as the impact of international sanctions which prevent upgrades to vehicles.
In another accident this month, six migrants from Afghanistan were killed in a head-on collision between a car and a truck near the central city of Yazd.
That came a week after nine people were killed in collision between a truck and a minibus in the central province of Isfahan.