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Afghans get lifeline, but $1.2b just the start

China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-15 11:14

Children play in a camp for internally displaced people in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday. The United Nations said millions of Afghans are facing a growing humanitarian crisis. [FELIPE DANA/ASSOCIATED PRESS]

Pledges come with 'hard road ahead'; Blinken takes flak on chaotic withdrawal

The United Nations drummed up more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges on Monday to help 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region.

At the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago, Western governments and big donors announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million that the UN was seeking to cover costs through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from a looming humanitarian disaster.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths, in announcing the more than $1.2 billion in pledges at the close of the ministerial meeting in Geneva, said the figure included the $606 million sought in a "flash appeal" that was also a regional response to the Afghan crisis that UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi spoke about after arriving in Kabul on a previously unannounced visit.

Griffiths wrote on Twitter that he would assess the humanitarian needs of the 3.5 million displaced Afghans, including more than 500,000 forced to move this year alone.

Griffiths urged donors to turn Monday's pledges into cash contributions as fast as possible, saying "the funding will throw a lifeline to Afghans" who lack food, healthcare and protection. He said the meeting showed solidarity with the Afghan people. but added that "Afghanistan faces a long and hard road ahead" and this "is far from the end of the journey".

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the opening of the conference: "The people of Afghanistan need a lifeline.... After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour. Now is the time for the international community to stand with them. And let us be clear, this conference is not simply about what we will give to the people of Afghanistan. It is about what we owe."

Chen Xu, head of the Chinese Mission to the UN at Geneva, said on Monday that China will donate an initial batch of 3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Afghanistan, with more emergency supplies to follow.

China's urgent help

China has decided to urgently provide food and materials for the winter, COVID-19 vaccines, and medicines worth 200 million yuan ($31 million) to Afghanistan, he said.

China has always respected the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan as its close neighbor, adhered to noninterference in its internal affairs and pursued a friendly policy toward all Afghan people, Chen said.

Chen also said that China supports the UN in playing a bigger role in alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and helping Afghanistan achieve a smooth transition and embark on the path of peaceful development at an early date.

"China welcomes the UN's flash appeal for humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, supports the UN to strengthen cooperation with other multilateral mechanisms related to the Afghanistan issue and form synergy by complementing each other," he said.

He told the meeting that under the current circumstances, the international community needs to step up assistance to Afghanistan.

The US and its allies were more obligated than others to provide economic and humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, he said.

Testy exchanges

But in Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday beat back criticism of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan at a contentious congressional hearing in which at least three Republicans called on him to resign.

In five hours of often testy exchanges with lawmakers, Blinken defended US President Joe Biden's decision to pull the troops out and pushed back on accusations that the State Department should have done more to help US citizens and Afghans to be evacuated, blaming the previous administration for lacking a plan.

He repeatedly noted that then-president Donald Trump had negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020, and said Trump's Democratic successor in the White House could not renegotiate because of threats from the group to resume killing US citizens.

Blinken appeared on Monday before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and was to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Islamist group's takeover.

Fireworks had been expected, given the amount of finger-pointing over how the two-decade-long war ended. Many Republicans, particularly those closely allied to Trump, interrupted or even shouted over Blinken during the House hearing, a departure for a committee known for bipartisan cooperation.

Agencies and Heng Weili in New York contributed to this story.

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