US, Germany to host talks on how to engage with Taliban

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) in Berlin, Germany, 23 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/JOHN MACDOUGALL]

The EU on Wednesday (8 September) sharply criticised the composition of the new Taliban “caretaker” government, as international coordination efforts are under way to find a way in dealing with the new rulers in Kabul.

The Taliban on Tuesday had announced a hardline caretaker government that has no women or non-Taliban members and includes key figures who are under United Nations sanctions or wanted by the United States on terrorism charges.

Taliban name new Afghan government, interior minister on US sanctions list

The Taliban drew from its inner high echelons to fill top posts in Afghanistan’s new government, including an associate of the Islamist militant group’s founder as premier and a wanted man on a US terrorism list as interior minister.

The “caretaker” government unveiled by the Taliban in Afghanistan failed to honour vows from the new rulers to include different groups, the EU said on Wednesday (8 September).

“Worrying reports” would be coming out of Afghanistan, “that the Taliban are not complying with international human rights obligations to which Afghanistan committed over the past decades,” EU’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, Peter Stano, said.

He was responding to reports of the violent crackdown of a demonstration in the Afghan capital Kabul with many women among the participants.

Last week, EU foreign ministers laid out their conditions for stepping up engagement with the Taliban, including the formation of an “inclusive and representative” transitional government.

EU sets five conditions for future 'operational engagement' with Taliban

EU member states on Friday (3 September) laid out their conditions for stepping up engagement with the Taliban, agreeing to establish a joint European–Kabul civilian presence.

At the same time, the EU is ready to continue with emergency aid to Afghanistan but will keep a close eye on the new Taliban government, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič said on Wednesday (8 September).

Šefčovič, however, added that longer-term donor money depended on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.

“We are looking very, very carefully at how the new government is behaving before engaging,” he told reporters in Brussels.

US-German initiative

The comments came as foreign ministers from 20 countries,  chaired by the top diplomats from the US and Germany, are to hold talks later on Wednesday on how to deal with how to approach the new administration.

The virtual meeting is likely to discuss the conditions for cooperation with the Taliban, terms for giving humanitarian aid, a discussion of counterterrorism issues and upholding basic human rights in Afghanistan.

After a visit to Qatar, which has been a transit point for 57,000 individuals airlifted out of Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken paid a visit to the Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate.

The US airbase is currently serving as a transit point for thousands of Afghans who are meant to be resettled to the US as part of the evacuation mission.

In a press release ahead of his trip, Blinken emphasised that “Germany had been an invaluable partner in Afghanistan for over 20 years”.

Before the virtual ministers meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it was necessary to “take a joint and coordinated approach in the next phase, particularly with regard to how we handle the new powerholders in Kabul”.

“We are prepared to provide humanitarian assistance via the United Nations, and we will continue to talk to the Taliban, not least in order to ensure that people for whom we are responsible can leave the country,” Maas said.

The German foreign minister added that “any further-reaching engagement will depend on the Taliban’s actions”, criticising that “the announcement of an interim government that does not include any other groups, and yesterday’s violence against protesters and journalists in Kabul, are not signals to make us optimistic”.

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