DOHA: The Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint US-EU delegation on Tuesday in Qatar as Brussels pledged one billion euros ($1.2 billion) in aid for Afghanistan.
The Taliban regime is seeking recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster, after they returned to power in August following the withdrawal of US troops.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the EU aid package, meant “to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse”, at a virtual G20 summit hosted by Italy.
She stressed the funds are “direct support” for Afghans and would be channelled to international organisations working on the ground, not to the Taliban’s interim government which Brussels does not recognise.
“We have been clear about our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities, including on the respect of human rights,” she said.
The Taliban badly need assistance as Afghanistan’s economy is in a parlous state with most aid cut off even as winter nears, food prices rise and unemployment spikes.
EU countries are wary at the prospect of a surge of Afghan asylum-seekers trying to enter the bloc, as happened in 2015 with Syrians fleeing their war.
Brussels’ calculation is that donating money to help stabilise Afghanistan and assist countries between it and Europe could stem any flow.
The direct talks held in Doha on Tuesday were facilitated by Qatar, which has long hosted a Taliban political office.
“I think engaging with them (the Taliban) is the most important now,” said Mutlaq al-Qahtani, a special envoy to Qatar’s foreign minister, who brushed aside the question of whether to recognise a Taliban government.
“A priority as we speak now is the humanitarian (situation), is education, is free passage” of people wishing to leave, he told the Global Security Forum conference in Doha.
EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali said the meeting would “allow the US and European side to address issues” including respect for women’s rights 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.
Martin Longden, charge d’affaires at the now evacuated UK mission to Afghanistan, joined the talks on Tuesday, saying his country had “pressed for action” on a number of issues.
Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2021