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Shanghai Cooperation Organization Leaders Call For Increased Afghan Aid, Unfreezing Of Assets

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit via a video link at his residence outside Moscow on September 17.

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 parallel summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) 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.

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 members countries of the SCO and the CSTO to create a "reliable security belt around Afghanistan to stop the possible expansion of terrorist groups" in the region.

"The current developments and the high risks of a catastrophic scenario confirm the necessity of helping countries bordering Afghanistan," Rahmon told the gathering in Dushanbe on September 17.

Rahmon said "the entire burden of negative impacts" following the withdrawal of the international coalition from Afghanistan "will be placed on Afghanistan’s neighboring countries."

"Contrary to their statements, the Taliban are following the path of creating an Islamic emirate with rules that are foreign to the modern era and the government they formed consists of their members only," Rahmon said.

He said the capabilities of the SCO's regional anti-terrorist structure need to be bolstered along with "the interaction of our countries' law enforcement agencies and special services" in order to counter "challenges and threats" emanating from Taliban-led Afghanistan.

Rahmon also expressed serious concern over the situation in Panjshir Valley, the last pocket of resistance to the Taliban 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."

With reporting by Reuters, TASS, and AFP
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