Following three days of talks with the Taliban in Kabul, the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan today reported a stalemate over the issue of hiring Afghan women, and warned that without a breakthrough on that point the UN would be forced to suspend a key food project in the country.
Erick de Mul told reporters in Islamabad that the Taliban still had not accepted the UN's need to rely on Afghan women to assist the most vulnerable in Afghanistan. "On this issue, we are stuck," he said.
A failure to agree could spell hunger for some 242,000 Afghans who now receive bread at drastically discounted prices under a UN World Food Programme (WFP) bakery project. The agency has to hire Afghan women to survey beneficiaries in order to ensure that those in need are receiving help. WFP warns that it will suspend the project on 15 June in the absence of an independent survey.
Mr. de Mul said that during his talks in Kabul, the Taliban had presented three proposals to find a way to survey the households benefiting from the bakeries, but none of them proved workable because the UN had to ensure that the surveyors could interview women and could work impartially and independently.
"We are trying to help lessen the suffering of the Afghan people, but there are new obstacles put in the way of our work every day -- we are now back to square one," said Mr. de Mul, stressing the urgent need for a solution.
"The ball is now in the Taliban's court," he said.
With the situation of the Afghan people "getting worse every day," the Coordinator said the UN had been "bending over backwards in order to try to help" but obstacles to its work persisted. He noted that the Taliban local authorities, and particularly the Ministry of Virtue and Vice, were hampering the UN's efforts, and expressed special concern about Afghan national staff of aid agencies, who were "increasingly frightened as they attempt to carry out their work."
Mr. de Mul did, however, report some progress in the Taliban's acceptance of universal principles that spell out the conditions that must be present for the UN to be able to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need.