A delegation from the United States met this Saturday with representatives of the Taliban regime in Doha in the first face-to-face meeting since the guerrillas seized power in Kabul last August after the withdrawal of US soldiers. The Taliban have asked Washington to lift the blockade on Afghan Central Bank reserves deposited with the Federal Reserve, according to the acting Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, quoted by the Qatari television network Al Jazeera. However, they do not seem willing to collaborate in the fight against the Islamic State.
The Taliban, in search of international legitimacy, are exploiting the projection offered by the appointment. ToloTV has even published an image of the delegation headed by Muttaqi on the plane in which it has traveled to the Qatari capital. On the US side, however, it has not been specified who is participating in the talks, although everything indicates that Zalmay Khalilzad, the diplomat who was in charge of negotiations with the Taliban until now, is not present.
A spokesman for the State Department did make it clear on Friday night that it was not a question of recognizing or legitimizing the Taliban as leaders of Afghanistan, but of addressing issues of national interest to the US. The same source said the priority, in addition The departure of those who wanted to leave Afghanistan was to urge the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and to form an inclusive government.
The Biden Administration has complained about the slowness of the evacuation process for those citizens, Americans or Afghans residing in the US, which it is trying to facilitate. Qatar is being instrumental in this process. Since the departure of the last US military flight on August 30, the Qatari airline has taken some 1,300 people out of Kabul on six humanitarian flights, the last one on Wednesday. Among the evacuees, there are many Afghans with dual citizenship, but also nationals of other countries and some Afghans who could be in danger under the Taliban regime.
The US talks with the Taliban will continue this Sunday and they were also scheduled to meet with European representatives. For Western countries, the relationship with the new power in Kabul, the self-styled Islamic Emirate, poses a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, they cannot legitimize a radical group that has taken power by force and has a long history of rights violations. On the other, after leaving Afghanistan, the country faces a very serious humanitarian crisis since the aid they provided provided 75% of public spending, according to the World Bank. Now, they are looking for formulas to channel that assistance while maintaining a certain distance from the de facto rulers.
Muttaqi has said that the United States will offer COVID vaccines to Afghans. According to his account of the meeting, the two sides, at odds during the two decades of US occupation of Afghanistan, have debated “turning a new page” in relations between the two countries. The minister stressed that the objective of the meeting was humanitarian aid and compliance with the Doha agreement, which the Taliban signed with Washington last year and which opened the doors to the withdrawal of US troops.
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Then, the guerrillas promised to sever their ties with terrorist groups and not to allow Afghan territory to serve as a base for attacks against US forces or their allies. Analysts hoped that some kind of cooperation would be established in the fight against the Islamic State franchise that operates in the region (ISIS-K), which both oppose. However, the Taliban have said they do not want counterterrorism assistance and warned Washington against their project of operations from outside Afghanistan (“over the horizon” in US military terminology).
Since the Taliban control Kabul, ISIS-K has resumed its attacks against both its rival and the Shiites, a religious minority with whom it has a special fixation. Last Friday, a suicide bomber killed 50 Shiites in a mosque in the northern city of Kunduz, the most serious attack since leaving the United States.
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