Under-pressure Taliban to meet EU in bid for ‘positive’ ties

Taliban delegation in Doha [@GomantakDainik Twitter]

The Taliban will hold face-to-face talks with European Union officials, the acting foreign minister said on Monday (11 October), in a diplomatic push by the hardline Islamists groping for international support.

The Taliban 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 António Guterres on Monday urged the world to donate more money to Afghanistan to head off its economic collapse, and he slammed the Taliban’s “broken” promises to Afghan women and girls.

The Taliban’s Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said the meeting with the EU would take place on Tuesday, days after he led the Taliban’s first in-person talks with United States officials since the American pullout.

US says Taliban talks in Doha were 'candid and professional'

The United States said the first face-to-face meeting between senior US and Taliban officials since the hardline group retook power in Afghanistan was “candid and professional” and that the Taliban would be judged on their actions, not just their words.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that humanitarian and socio-economic situation in Afghanistan was “on the verge of collapse”.

In a statement following a videoconference with EU ministers for development, Borrell said the EU had agreed on having “a calibrated approach” to give direct support to the Afghan population in order to prevent this humanitarian catastrophe “while, certainly, not recognising the Taliban”.

“We will deliver the aid, through our multilateral partners, but respecting our agreed principles of engagement”, Borrell 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.

“Tomorrow we are meeting the EU representatives. We are having positive meetings with representatives of other countries,” Muttaqi said in translated remarks at an event organised by Qatar’s Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies.

“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,” he added.

Ahead of the first publicly announced EU talks, Muttaqi said he had already met German officials and a British parliamentarian in Doha.

However, Guterres underlined international attitudes to the regime with his criticism of Taliban attitudes to women.

“I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban being broken,” he told reporters.

“I strongly appeal to the Taliban to keep their promises to women and girls and fulfill their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

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 has 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.

Elsewhere during a wide-ranging encounter, Muttaqi insisted there was no discrimination against the Shiite community and also claimed that IS-K was being tamed.

The Islamic Emirate “can control it…has controlled it,” he said, using the Taliban’s term for Afghanistan.

“Whatever preparations they had made have been neutralised 98%,” he added.

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 United States 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.

(Edited by Georgi Gotev)

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