WASHINGTON World leaders met virtually Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent an economic and humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, but the Biden administration maintained a cautious stance toward providing more support for the Taliban-ruled country.
The European Union pledged $ 1 billion, or $ 1.15 billion, in aid to Afghanistan and neighboring countries, as G20 leaders reaffirmed their separate support for human rights and stability in the country.
We must do everything we can to avoid a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse in Afghanistan, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a statement. We need to do it fast.
After two meetings with Taliban officials in recent days, however, the Biden administration did not announce any new US aid to the country as it directs its approach to an Afghan government led by a group that fought with the United States for nearly 20 years. .
Experts say EU funding, some of which was promised last month, was at best a temporary solution to the dire need in Afghanistan, a nation of 30 million people whose financial system is on the verge of collapse. of collapse. Most international aid to the country has been cut off since mid-August, when the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took power.
The G20 summit produced a statement of largely recognized principles, including the need to protect the rights of Afghan women and for the Taliban to allow humanitarian aid to flow unhindered. President Biden attended the virtual rally, but several key leaders, including Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, did not attend.
The Biden administration reiterated support for the use of diplomatic, humanitarian and economic means to help the Afghan people, but only after stressing first that leaders at the meeting discussed the need to maintain a laser focus on counterterrorism and the safe passage of foreign nationals. and Afghans eligible for asylum in the United States.
Officials said terrorism and safe passage were the main topics of discussion at a special pair of US officials’ meetings with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, in recent days, the first of its kind since the Taliban formed a government last month. past. Bigger and much more difficult decisions, such as granting diplomatic recognition to the Taliban, or merging billions of dollars in Afghan assets, are not inevitable, officials said.
At a news conference Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said denying a haven for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and providing a way out of the country for vulnerable people were essential national interests, a label he did not he applied. help for the Afghan people.
Further social chaos could fuel radicalism within Afghanistan’s borders and launch the influx of refugees at a time when Europe is still facing an increase in immigrants over the past decade that has destabilized governments and fueled far-right nationalism.
Mr Price noted that the United States had approved nearly $ 64 million in humanitarian aid to the country in recent weeks and that a representative from the US Agency for International Development had joined a weekend session that US officials held with the Taliban.
Decisions with more far-reaching implications, including whether the new Afghan government will be formally recognized and the critical question of whether $ 9.5 billion will be raised in Afghan National Reserves held by the Federal Reserve will depend on how the Taliban choose to govern the country, he said. . Price. with
Laurel Miller, director of the Asian Program for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization focused on deadly conflicts, said the cold facts of Afghanistan’s needs were in direct conflict with the politics of the situation.
How can the Biden administration release those assets without being accused of giving billions of dollars to the Taliban? she said.
Ms Miller said humanitarian aid would help in the near term, but could do so much to support a country facing the prospect of economic collapse.
A broken banking and payment system can also severely complicate the delivery of foreign aid. In a statement, Necephor Mghendi, head of the Afghanistan delegation to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, warned of a major shortage of money that could lead to a ban on essential health care and other services.
A senior administration official said the United States was in no hurry to merge Afghan assets, or secure diplomatic recognition, reiterating the US position that the Taliban must show that they govern comprehensively, protect human rights, prevent terrorist activities and ensure freedom of movement from the country.
The official also stressed that disbursing funds would not necessarily be the key to averting a humanitarian catastrophe, as the Taliban had not yet proved to the international community that they could distribute and manage funds responsibly.
Adela Raz, who was ambassador to previous Afghan governments in Washington before the Taliban came to power, and who continues to work from the country’s embassy without Taliban guidance, acknowledged that the United States and other governments faced very harsh decisions. difficult to balance pressure on the Taliban with support for regular Afghans.
The Afghan people should not be taken hostage, Ms. Raz said in an interview.
But she said there is not much difference so far from the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, when it denied rights and basic education to Afghan girls and women and enforced the law with public amputations and executions.
For the international community, she said, helping the Afghan people without the support of the Taliban poses a unique challenge. We have never seen anything like it before, she said.
Understand the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan
Who are the Taliban? The Taliban rose in 1994 amid unrest following the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989. They used brutal public punishments, including flogging, amputations and mass executions, to enforce their rules. Here you have more about their history of origin and their history as rulers.
In addition to the G20 meeting, officials from the United States and several European countries met with Taliban representatives in Doha in what the European Union described as an informal exchange at a technical level that did not constitute recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate government.
This stance is similar to that taken by the Biden administration, which refers to all-male Taliban leaders, generally of the hard line running the country as a caretaker government, a phrase that implies the hope many analysts call distant for a more inclusive government. to come.
E The EU commitment includes 300m euros in humanitarian aid already announced, along with another 250m to provide additional support to those in urgent need, especially in the area of health, Ms. von der Leyen said.
The money will go to international organizations already working in Afghanistan, as well as recent US aid.
The new Taliban government has generally cooperated with UN aid agencies, UN Secretary-General Antnio Guterres said on Tuesday, and has gradually given access to the required areas and provided security when needed.
Although the Taliban abducted and killed foreign aid workers during their two-decade uprising, they have a vested interest in appeasing the international community now that they are in power, as they hope to gain diplomatic recognition and direct economic support for it. rebuilt a impoverished country devastated by decades of war.
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who hosted the G20 summit, called it the first multilateral response to the Afghan crisis. Speaking at a press conference at the end of the meeting, he added, Multilateralism is returning.
Mr Draghi said the leaders’ discussions had gone beyond blame for the fall of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, an issue he said dominated UN General Assembly meetings in recent months over the issue of humanitarian aid. At least that allows us to overcome the inevitable differences in perspectives, he said.
Mr Draghi said giving aid required us to talk but not officially recognize the Taliban.
There is no alternative to having contact with them, he said. They are essential for this response to be effective.
Michael Crowley reported by Washington, and Steven Erlanger from Brussels. Ema Bubola has contributed to reporting from Rome, Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Kabul, Afghanistan and Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington.
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