| 28 October 2021, Thursday |

Humanitarian crisis in focus as Italy hosts G20 Afghan summit

On Tuesday, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will convene a special meeting of the Group of 20 major countries to examine Afghanistan, as fears of a humanitarian disaster increase in the aftermath of the Taliban’s return to power.

Since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan on Aug. 15, the country’s economy has all but collapsed, creating the specter of a refugee exodus. Afghanistan was already suffering from drought and extreme poverty as a result of decades of war.

The video conference, which begins at 1 p.m. (1100 GMT), will address relief needs, security issues, and measures to ensure safe passage out of Afghanistan for thousands of Western-allied Afghans still in the country.

“With winter approaching, providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable people, particularly women and children, is critical,” said a G20 official familiar with the topic.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, is expected to attend the summit, underscoring the UN’s crucial role in resolving the situation, which is owing in part to the fact that many countries do not want to develop direct contacts with the Taliban.

Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the G20, has worked hard to set up the meeting in the face of highly divergent views within the disparate group on how to deal with Afghanistan after the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Kabul.

“The main problem is that Western countries want to put their finger on the way the Taliban run the country, how they treat women for example, while China and Russia on the other hand have a non-interference foreign policy,” said a diplomatic source close to the matter.

China has publicly demanded that economic sanctions on Afghanistan be lifted and that billions of dollars in Afghan international assets be unfrozen and handed back to Kabul. It was not clear if this would even be discussed on Tuesday.

While U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Europe’s G20 leaders were expected to take part in the meeting, Chinese media reported that President Xi Jinping would not participate. It was also not clear if Russian President Vladimir Putin would dial in.

Afghanistan’s neighbors Pakistan and Iran have not been invited to the virtual call, but Qatar, which has played a key role as an interlocutor between the Taliban and the West, will join the discussions, a diplomatic source said.

The virtual summit comes just days after senior U.S. and Taliban officials met in Qatar for their first face-to-face meeting since the hardline group retook power.

Tuesday’s meeting comes less than three weeks before the formal G20 leaders summit in Rome on Oct. 30-31, which is due to focus on climate change, the global economic recovery, tackling malnutrition and the COVID-19 pandemic.