Under-pressure Taliban to meet EU, US in diplomatic push
The Taliban will hold joint face-to-face talks with European and US envoys, the EU said on Monday, as the hardline Islamists pursue their diplomatic push for international support.
Afghanistan’s new rulers are seeking recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster, after they returned to power in August following the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the world to donate more money to Afghanistan to head off its economic collapse, but also slammed the Taliban’s “broken” promises to Afghan women and girls.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said officials from the US and Europe would meet representatives of Afghanistan’s new authorities for talks facilitated by Qatar in Doha on Tuesday.
She said the meeting would “allow the US and European side to address issues” including free passage for people wanting to leave, access for humanitarian aid, respect for the rights of women and preventing Afghanistan becoming a haven for “terrorist” groups.
“This is an informal exchange at technical level. It does not constitute recognition of the ‘interim government’,” she said.
The Taliban badly need allies as Afghanistan’s economy is in a parlous state with international aid cut off, food prices rising and unemployment spiking.
The regime, still yet to be recognised as a legitimate government by any other country, is also facing a threat from the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), who have launched a series of deadly attacks.
A meeting with the EU was announced earlier by the Taliban’s acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, days after he led its first in-person talks with United States officials since the American pullout.
“We want positive relationships with the whole world. We believe in balanced international relations. We believe such a balanced relationship can save Afghanistan from instability,” Muttaqi said in translated remarks at an event in Qatar.
Ahead of the talks, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc was looking to bolster its direct aid to the Afghan people in an effort to stave off “collapse”.
“We cannot ‘wait and see’. We need to act, and act quickly,” Borrell said after discussions with EU development ministers.
The international community is facing a tough balancing act trying to get urgently-needed aid to Afghans without endorsing Taliban rule.
Guterres underscored discontent with the Taliban over its treatment of women despite vows it would not repeat its earlier hardline rule.
“I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken,” he told reporters.
Without the participation of women “there is no way the Afghan economy and society will recover”, Guterres said.
– Security warning –
Afghanistan’s boys were allowed to return to secondary schools three weeks ago, but girls have been told to stay at home along with women teachers in much of the country, though they can attend primary school.
Asked about the exclusion of girls, Muttaqi said schools had been closed because of Covid-19 — a threat he said had lessened.
“Covid… has been controlled and incidences are very few, and with the reduction of that risk, opening of schools has already started and every day it is increasing,” he said.
Muttaqi also insisted there was no discrimination against the Shiite community and also claimed that IS-K was being tamed.
“Whatever preparations they had made have been neutralised 98 percent,” he said.
IS-K claimed a bombing of a Shiite mosque that killed more than 60 people on Friday, the deadliest attack since the Taliban regained power.
Underlining the shaky security situation, the US and Britain warned their citizens on Monday to avoid hotels in Afghanistan, and singled out one hotel in Kabul.
“US citizens who are at or near the Serena Hotel should leave immediately,” the US State Department said, citing “security threats” in the area.
The Serena, a luxury facility popular with business travellers and foreign guests, has twice been the target of attacks by the Taliban.
In 2014, just weeks before the presidential election, four teenage gunmen with pistols hidden in their socks managed to penetrate several layers of security, killing nine people, including an AFP journalist and members of his family.