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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

New Taliban administration meets EU, western powers in Qatar


The Taliban welcomed the US offer of humanitarian assistance.

Members of the new interim Afghan administration met with officials from the European Union and a number of other western diplomats in Qatar on Tuesday, as the group pushes for international legitimacy and humanitarian assistance.

Among the diplomats present at the meeting were those from the UK, Canada, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and Sweden.

EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the meeting is an “informal exchange at a technical level” and would enable Europe and the US to address key issues, such as humanitarian aid and respecting women and girls’ rights.

Massrali also assured the meeting “does not constitute recognition” of the interim government.

Ahead of the talks, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was looking to prevent the country from collapsing by bolstering direct aid to Afghanistan.

“We cannot ‘wait and see’. We need to act, and act quickly,” Borrell said after discussions with EU development ministers.

The latest development came after a Taliban delegation including Acting Foreign Minister Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi arrived in Qatar on Friday to hold the first face-to-face talks with the US since the troop withdrawal from Kabul on 31 August.

Those talks focused on humanitarian aid as well as the implementation of the February agreement.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the meeting with the Taliban was “candid and professional” though Washington stressed the new administration would still be judged based on their actions and not their statements.

Price also said the talks focused on a safe passage to exit Afghanistan for US citizens, security and terrorism concerns, as well as the resurgence of militant group ISIS-K, which has already carried out a number of deadly attacks across Afghanistan.

Amir meets senior US official as American Afghan university moves campus to Doha

The participation of women and girls in Afghan society was also among a number of key discussion points. The delegates also touched on the provision of humanitarian assistance as the country struggles with several crises following decades of war and drought.

The Taliban administration said it welcomed the US offer of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and said aid “should not be linked to political issues”.

“Detailed discussions were held during the meeting about all relevant issues. And efforts should be exerted to restore diplomatic relations to a better state,” the new Taliban-led Afghan ministry said in a statement, adding that similar meetings would be held in future if required.

During his visit to Qatar last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington is working on providing aid to Afghanistan despite existing sanctions on members of the Taliban.

“We are determined to continue providing assistance to the Afghan people consistent with existing sanctions,” said Blinken during a press conference in Doha on 7 September.

On Saturday, Muttaqi said his delegation had asked the US to lift its ban on reserves belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank and said the US would offer Afghans Covid-19 vaccines.

“Good relations with Afghanistan are good for everyone. Nothing should be done to weaken the existing government in Afghanistan which can lead to problems for the people,” he said, in a recorded statement translated by AFP.

Speaking to Doha News in August, Taliban’s spokesman in Qatar Suhail Shaheen said the new government wants to have “good relations with all countries” on the basis of “mutual respect and mutual interest”.

Shaheen said the group was also willing to hold talks with the Joe Biden administration.

Meanwhile officials from the Biden administration told Reuters on Friday that the US delegation said it would press the Taliban to release Mark Frerichs, an American Civil Engineer who was kidnapped by the Haqqani network in January 2020.

Among the other priorities included holding the Taliban accountable to its commitment to stop the country from becoming a haven for terrorism.

The protection of women and girls has remained to be one of the key areas of concern following the Taliban’s takeover, especially due to the group’s track record from the 90s.

However, the group quickly attempted to quell those worries in its first press conference in August, vowing to uphold and protect all Afghans, saying women and girls would be allowed access to education.

Since then, Afghan boys have been allowed to return to school, though their female counterparts have been barred from doing so.

On Tuesday, UN chief Antonio Guterres made note of broken promises.

“I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken,” he told reporters.

Qatar has been playing a key diplomatic role over the past few years, facilitating direct talks between the US, Taliban and former Afghan government. It also hosted the intra-Afghan talks in September last year.

More recently, the Gulf state has been at the forefront of evacuations since the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, rushing to evacuate more than 50,000 Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan in the world’s largest airlift of people in history.

Doha has also helped house Afghan students, including the all-girls robotics team, known as the “Afghan Dreamers”, and announced plans to relocate the American University of Afghanistan’s campuses to Qatar, where students will continue to pursue their education.

On Monday, a seventh flight departed Kabul to Doha, carrying more than 300 Afghans and foreign nationals.

Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said the passengers included Afghan MPs, UN affiliates and journalists.

The latest developments come as Qatar is due to attend an extraordinary G20 meeting on Tuesday, where officials will be focusing on the situation in Afghanistan.

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