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The Latest: Spanish Visit to Pakistan Seeks to Help Evacuate | World News

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MADRID — Spain’s foreign minister is in Islamabad for talks with Pakistani officials aimed at easing the transit of Afghan people who worked with Spain before Afghanistan’s fall into the hands of the Taliban.

Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares is scheduled to hold meetings with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and his counterpart, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, among other officials.

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In a video released by the Spanish ministry, Albares said that the goal was to hold talks “with one of the main key players in the region” and find ways to “leave no one behind.” The minister said he would give assurances to the Pakistani government that Spain’s embassy would deal fast with Afghans who worked for the country in order for them not to become a burden for Pakistan.

Albares’ is the first trip by a Spanish foreign minister to Pakistan in 70 years of diplomatic relations.

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ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister says it is the collective responsibility of the international community to help Afghanistan to avert a humanitarian crisis.

In a statement Friday, Shah Mahmood Qureshi said that despite having limited resources, Pakistan a day earlier sent a plane carrying food and medicines to Kabul. Qureshi said more such aid will be dispatched to Afghanistan via land routes.

Qureshi made his comments ahead of the visit of his Spanish counterpart, José Manuel Albares, who was expected to arrive in the capital, Islamabad, later Friday, for talks on Afghanistan.

Qureshi said that a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan wouldn’t be anyone’s interest — in the region or in the world.

Pakistan wants the international community to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets to enable Kabul use its own money to avert a worsening humanitarian crisis.

The Taliban government currently does not have access to the Afghanistan central bank’s $9 billion in reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. These reserves were blocked amid last month’s political turmoil in Afghanistan.

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations development agency says Afghanistan is teetering on the brink of “universal poverty” which could become a reality in the middle of next year unless urgent efforts are made to bolster local communities and their economies.

It said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has put 20 years of steady economic gains at risk.

The U.N. Development Program outlined four scenarios for Afghanistan following the Taliban’s Aug. 15 assumption of power that predict the country’s GDP will decline between 3.6% and 13.2% in the next fiscal year starting in June 2022, depending on the intensity of the crisis and how much the world engages with the Taliban. That is in sharp contrast to the expected 4% growth in GDP before the fall of the government.

“Afghanistan pretty much faces universal poverty by the middle of next year,” Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Director, told a news conference Thursday launching its 28-page assessment. “That’s where we’re heading — it’s 97-98% (poverty rate) no matter how you work these projections.”

Currently, the poverty rate is 72% and Wignaraja pointed to many development gains after the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001: Per capita income more than doubled in the last 20 years, life expectancy at birth was extended by about nine years, the number of years of schooling rose from six to 10, “and we got women into university.”

But she said Afghanistan now faces “a humanitarian and development disaster” resulting from political instability, frozen foreign reserves, a collapsed public finance system, “a crush on local banking because of this,” as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNITED NATIONS — The United States has a message for the Taliban: If it lives up to all its commitments, brings greater stability to Afghanistan and the region, demonstrates widespread inclusion, and protects the gains of the last 20 years “we’ll work with it.”

But U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, who delivered the message at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday, stressed that “any legitimacy and support will have to be earned.”

He said the standards the international community has set are clear and include facilitating safe passage for Afghans and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan and respecting the country’s obligations under international humanitarian law “including those related to the protection of civilians.”

“We’re watching closely to see that those standards are met,” he said.

DeLaurentis told the council that following the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan needs the United Nations and the U.N. political mission in the country “more than ever.”

He said “the United States remains committed to the people of Afghanistan,” and as the country’s largest humanitarian donor it is helping partners on the ground provide assistance, “but the needs are vast.”

With the diplomatic footprint in the country reduced, DeLaurentis said, “the U.N. has a vitally important role to play” not only in coordinating aid but in preventing human rights violations and abuses and pursuing accountability for those that have occurred, and in protecting children and civilians.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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