Militant Groups Could Take Advantage Of Afghan Crisis, Pakistan Says Ahead Of OIC Meet

Groups such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh will take advantage of the Afghan crisis, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi cautioned on Friday ahead of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s special session in Islamabad.

The 17th Extraordinary Session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers was called by Saudi Arabia and will be hosted by Islamabad on Dec. 19.

The meeting’s focus is on the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, where the economy plunged into free fall in mid-August when the Taliban took control as US-led foreign troops withdrew after 20 years’ presence.

Concerns over the unchecked presence of extremist groups on Afghan soil have been raised since the beginning of the US withdrawal, but last week the head of the US Central Command said it was clear that Al-Qaeda is attempting to rebuild its presence inside Afghanistan, which was the base from which it planned the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the US.

“The likes of Al-Qaeda and Daesh will take advantage of the crisis and will increase their footprints in Afghanistan,” Qureshi told reporters during a press briefing.

The Taliban takeover prompted the US and other donors to cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan had become dependent during the 20 years of war, and froze $9.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets, isolating the country from the global financial system and paralyzing its banks.

UN agencies say nearly 23 million people — about 55 percent of the Afghan population — are facing extreme levels of hunger, with 9 million at risk of famine.

“If we do not act now this will become the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” Qureshi said. “All you have invested in Afghanistan in the past 20 years in education and other sectors will be ruined. The gains the world has made will evaporate.”

As delegates for the OIC meeting started to arrive in Islamabad, including the organization’s secretary general Hissein Brahim Taha and Islamic Development Bank president Muhammad Sulaiman Al-Jasser, Qureshi said US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West has also confirmed his participation.

“That gives the US an opportunity to assess the situation right sitting next door,” he said, adding that he had also discussed the unfreezing of the Afghan central bank assets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who cited “certain legal issues” hindering the release of funds.

“I think there is still a cushion of around $2 billion which is not tied to those legal issues. By releasing those $2 billion the US can ease immediate sufferings of Afghan people, so we are saying they should consider that,” Qureshi said.

He said that Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi is also scheduled to attend the OIC meeting, which will give the international community an opportunity to express their concerns and expectations directly to the Taliban.