ISLAMABAD: The United States has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to a desperately poor Afghanistan on the brink of an economic disaster, while refusing to give political recognition to the Taliban rulers, according to a statement released on Sunday.
The statement came at the end of the first direct talks between the former foes since the chaotic withdrawal of US troops at the end of August.
The Taliban said the talks held in Doha, Qatar, went well, with Washington freeing up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan after agreeing not to link such assistance to formal recognition of Taliban.
The United States made it clear that the talks were in no way a preamble to recognition of the Taliban, who swept into power on Aug 15 after the US-allied government collapsed.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the movement’s interim foreign minister assured the US during the talks that the Taliban were committed to seeing that Afghan soil is not used by extremists to launch attacks against other countries.
On Saturday, however, the Taliban ruled out cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active militant Islamic State group in Afghanistan.
The IS, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including Friday’s suicide bombing that killed 46 Shias.
“We are able to tackle Daesh (IS) independently,” Shaheen said when asked whether the Taliban would work with the US to contain the Islamic State affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies who tracks militant groups, agreed the Taliban do not need Washington’s help to hunt down and destroy Afghanistan’s IS affiliate, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province.
The Taliban “fought 20 years to eject the US and the last thing it needs is the return of the US. It also doesn’t need US help,” said Roggio, who also produces the foundation’s Long War Journal.
The IS affiliate doesn’t have the advantage of safe havens in Pakistan and Iran that the Taliban had in its fight against the United States, Roggio said. However, he warned that the Taliban’s longtime support for Al Qaeda made them unreliable as counterterrorism partners with the United States.
The Taliban gave refuge to Al Qaeda before it carried out the 9/11 attacks. That prompted the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power.
“It is insane for the US to think the Taliban can be a reliable counterterrorism partner, given the Taliban’s enduring support for Al Qaeda,” Roggio said.
During the meeting, US officials were expected to press the Taliban to allow Americans and others to leave Afghanistan. In their statement, the Taliban said without elaborating that they would facilitate principled movement of foreign nationals.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2021