Afghanistan on the brink warn donors
By staff and wire reports
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A meeting of donor countries involved in giving aid to Afghanistan has painted a grim picture of the country's deepening humanitarian crisis.
At a gathering in the Pakistani city of Islamabad representatives of 16 nations heard reports of worsening harassment of aid workers by the ruling Taliban.
Relief workers say if the situation continues the Taliban's actions could endanger the future of aid operations in the war-torn country.
Others warned that there was still no early prospect of an end to the years of conflict in the country.
Hans-Joachim Daerr, chairman of the Afghan Support Group, said the number of people displaced by drought and war inside Afghanistan could rise to one million, in the coming months up from some 600,000.
Another 200,000 Afghans have already entered Pakistan.
"There is no immediate prospect of a political solution, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen and from there, of course, flows the need for additional aid," Daerr told a news conference at the conclusion of the two-day meeting.
Aid effort in danger
Despite the deepening crisis, foreign aid organizations accuse the Taliban, who rule about 90 percent of the country of some 22 million people, of increasing harassment of those providing assistance.
"There is a need to be aware that these difficulties, if they increase, at a given point could endanger the overall effort of helping the Afghan people through donor country activities," said Daerr, who is also German ambassador to Pakistan.
Daerr said Taliban religious police, enforcing their harsh interpretation of Islam, have so far raided four hospitals in Afghanistan.
The newest hospital in Kabul, built with Italian funds this year, has been closed since staff were beaten by religious police during a raid in May.
Daerr said the Afghanistan Support Group expects aid this year to exceed $260 million, up from $229 million in 2000. But he said delivering it could be impossible with the Taliban's continued harassment.
In recent weeks, aid workers have been arrested, and complained of being threatened on the streets by Taliban officials.
Others say they have been asked to sign pledges they would submit to the Taliban interpretation of Islamic law in cases of violating a list of rules such as wearing provocative clothes. Adultery would be punished by public execution.
Nonetheless Daerr said the donors' priority was to continue humanitarian work.
Meanwhile the deepening confrontation between the Taliban and the United Nations, which oversees most aid supplied by donor countries, was underlined by a new threat from Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar on Thursday.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press quoted him saying that any U.N. staff sent to monitor sanctions imposed on the movement by the U.N. Security Council -- including a ban on arms supplies that would have to enter via Pakistan -- would be considered "enemies on the frontline."
A Taliban-U.N. dispute could threaten bread supplies from the U.N. World Food Programme for 300,000 people in Kabul on June 15 unless the regime lifts its ban on employing women for a survey to ensure the food reaches the poor.
"There are minimal conditions for the work of WFP. If they are not met, WFP will take the necessary decisions," said Daerr.
Daerr said the sanctions against the Taliban, designed to force them to hand over Saudi militant Osama bin Laden to face charges of bombing two U.S. embassies, had had "no major impact" on the humanitarian crisis facing Afghanistan.
The country has been torn apart by war since 1979 and is now entering the fourth year of a devastating drought.
Earlier this week a U.N. official said the Taliban, which rejects U.N. efforts to mediate an end to the war, had massed 30,000 troops in the north for a new offensive against its last significant opponent.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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