In Doha talks, US seeks to prevent future attacks, Taliban seek assets

Published December 2, 2021
Abdul Salam Hanafi, member of the Taliban negotiating team and the Taliban delegation, arrive for talks in Doha, Qatar in this August file photo. — Reuters
Abdul Salam Hanafi, member of the Taliban negotiating team and the Taliban delegation, arrive for talks in Doha, Qatar in this August file photo. — Reuters

WASHINGTON: In this week’s Doha talks, the United States urged Taliban to ensure their territory is not used for future terrorist attacks while the Taliban demanded unfreezing of Afghan state assets and lifting of US sanctions.

On Nov 29 and 30, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West held a series of meetings with Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The US delegation included representatives from the Department of State, Treasury, USAID, and the intelligence community while the Taliban delegation included senior officials of their interim government and “technocratic professionals,” the US State Department said.

The official US statement, issued in Washington, said the discussions focused on “enduring US national interests” and “this engagement” was “a continuation of pragmatic diplomacy on Afghanistan in coordination with US allies and partners.”

“The US delegation emphasised the importance of the Taliban fulfilling its public commitment not to allow anyone to pose a threat to any country from the soil of Afghanistan,” US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price told reporters.

The US team also underlined the need to provide safe passage for US citizens and Afghans to whom the US has “a special commitment,” the statement said. US negotiators also demanded the protection of the rights of all Afghan citizens, including its women, girls, and minorities, and the safe release of an American hostage, Mark Frerichs.

The US statement, however, did not mention a key demand, the creation of an all-inclusive government in Kabul, which should include non-Taliban political forces as well.

In a tweet posted on his official site, Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the two sides discussed and exchanged views on political, economic, health, education, security and humanitarian issues.

“The Afghan side assured them about security, urged immediate unconditional unfreezing of Afghan reserves, ending of sanctions & blacklists, & disconnecting humanitarian issues from political considerations,” Mr Balkhi tweeted. “Overall, the sessions were positive and both sides agreed to continue such meetings moving forward.”

The US statement said the two teams also discussed the international community’s on-going and urgent response to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and the US delegation pledged to continue to support UN and humanitarian actors’ efforts to scale up to meet lifesaving needs this coming winter.

“The United States remains committed to ensuring that US sanctions do not limit the ability of Afghan civilians to receive humanitarian support from the US government and international community while denying assets to sanctioned entities and individuals,” the statement added.

The US Department of the Treasury has issued general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs.

The Doha talks followed growing appeals to scale up financial aid to Afghanistan, where the United Nations says more than half the population is suffering from acute hunger this winter.

“Special Representative West welcomed the Taliban’s follow-through on safe passage commitments and recognised improvements in providing all humanitarian workers safe and unimpeded access to communities in need,” the US statement said.

“The Taliban reiterated their pledge not to allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by anyone to threaten any country,” Mr Price added. “US officials expressed concern regarding the continuing presence of Al Qaeda and IS in Afghanistan.”

The US delegation noted recent statements from Taliban leaders “expressing support for women and girls’ access to education at all levels and urged implementation of that commitment countrywide,” he added.

According to the official US statement, the Taliban “expressed openness to engaging with the international community on full access to education and welcomed efforts to verify and monitor progress to enroll women and girls in school at all levels. The Taliban asked for support in the education sector.”

American officials expressed deep concern over allegations of human rights abuses and urged the Taliban to protect the rights of all Afghans, uphold and enforce its policy of general amnesty, and take additional steps to form an inclusive and representative government, Mr Price said.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2021

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