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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

US launches talks with Taliban in Doha as Kabul seeks EU assistance


The interim administration also requested the EU’s assistance in operating Afghan airports.

The United States launched talks with the interim Taliban-led Afghan government’s delegation in Qatar on Monday, the second such meetings to take place since the troop withdrawal from Kabul in August.

According to Washington’s State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter, the US delegation is led by newly-appointed envoy to Afghanistan Tom West, with talks taking place on both Monday and Tuesday.

The interim-Afghan government’s delegation includes representatives from the ministries of education, health, finance, security, and Da Afghanistan Bank.

“The United States continues to pursue the priorities in Afghanistan, which includes counterterrorism, respect for human rights, as well as safe passage for US citizens and our Afghan allies to whom we have a special commitment,” Porter told a Washington press briefing.

The spokesperson added that the meetings aim to “advance” US interest in Afghanistan “through candid dialogue with Taliban representatives”.

In a statement made last week by US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price, the official noted the main theme for dialogue is much-needed humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

Qatar, Turkey discuss Afghanistan humanitarian aid in talks with Taliban

The previous round of US-Taliban talks took place in October and were the first since the foreign troop withdrawal on 31 August this year.

During those talks, the Taliban had warned the US not to “destabilise” its regime and discussed “opening a new page” while calling on Washington to release frozen Afghan assets.

Since the August takeover, the interim Afghan administration has been expressing its willingness to establish ties with the US despite 20 years of fighting.
In an open letter to US Congress sent earlier this month, the Taliban-led government said it “is interested in establishing positive relations with all world governments including the American administration”.

“Afghanistan now has everything available for growth and development, and the United States of America can also invest in the manufacturing, agriculture and mining sectors of Afghanistan,” said interim Foreign Minister with Amir Khan Muttaqi in the letter.

Muttaqi also called for the full implementation of the Doha agreement which he said can pave the way for positive ties between the interim government and Washington.

Under the former Donald Trump administration in February last year, the US and the Taliban signed an agreement in Doha that set 1 May 2021 as the deadline for the complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

Despite previously branding them terrorists, UAE now in talks with the Taliban

The US said it would go ahead with the withdrawal if the Taliban halted its support for terrorist organisations.

However, President Biden changed the deadline to 11 September this year – before it was later revised to 31 August – without conditions.

Seeking EU assistance

The caretaker Afghan government said it is also willing to engage with the EU, with separate meetings taking place in the Qatari capital. Diplomats from the bloc, led by Special Envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson are currently in discussions with the Taliban.
During the weekend, the EU and the interim Afghan government stressed the importance of addressing the worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, especially with the winter season posing a threat on those in need of aid.
The EU’s delegation said in a statement on Sunday that it will continue to provide Afghanistan with humanitarian assistance under the “principles of humanity, independence, impartiality and neutrality to ensure access to those in need”.

Furthermore, the Taliban-led delegation requested assistance from the EU in maintaining operations of Afghanistan’s airports and said that it remains committed to guaranteeing the safe passage of foreign nationals and Afghans.

“The Afghan delegation reaffirmed its commitment to the general amnesty decreed upon assuming power and agreed with the need to amplify this message, and its enforcement, inside Afghanistan,” read a statement from the EU.

Both the EU and Afghan sides expressed their willingness to continue dialogue in Doha, though the bloc noted that the meetings do not imply recognition of the Taliban rule.

Humanitarian situation

The United Nations had warned in October this year that at least 22 million Afghans, more than half of the country, are at risk of facing “acute” hunger during the harsh winter season.

This is the result of drought caused by global warming, a worsening economic crisis and years of war.

The US contributed to the dire situation by freezing up to $10 billion of Afghanistan’s reserves when the Taliban took over Kabul on 15 August, while the International Monetary Fund [IMF] also halted funds to the country.

The World Bank is now working on a compromise, which it struck with the UN and US, to deliver $500 million in frozen aid to humanitarian agencies, as sources told Reuters on Monday.

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