G20 leaders agree to step up Afghan humanitarian effort

Taliban hold face-to-face talks with EU-US delegation in Doha: Brussels pledges billion euros aid package

By: AFP      Published: 07:41 AM, 13 Oct, 2021
G20 leaders agree to step up Afghan humanitarian effort
Members of Spanish Red Cross take care of evacuees from Afghanistan who just disembarked from an evacuation flight, at the Torrejon de Ardoz Air Base, 30 km from Madrid.–AFP

G20 leaders agreed Tuesday to work together to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, as the EU pledged a one-billion-euro aid package and host Italy stressed the need to maintain contacts with the Taliban

As the Islamist group held its first face-to-face talks with a US-EU delegation in Qatar, US President Joe Biden, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan and India's Narendra Modi joined a virtual summit on the looming economic and humanitarian crises sparked by the Taliban's return to power.

The European Union opened the talks by pledging one billion euros ($1.2-billion), including money for urgent humanitarian needs and Afghanistan's neighbours who were taking in Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Draghi had been pushing for the Group of 20 meeting since the August takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, insisting debate over solutions must go beyond the usual club of Western allies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend themselves, instead sending representatives, but Draghi insisted they all agreed on the need to help more.

"Instead of responding and arguing... we now have an awareness of this emergency and of the enormous responsibilities that the G20 has towards the Afghan people," he told a post-summit press conference.

- 'Not yet delivered' -

International aid has been blocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power following the withdrawal of US and other international troops after 20 years of war.

The country's assets held abroad have been frozen, while food prices and unemployment are rising, prompting warnings of a humanitarian disaster once winter arrives.

"To stand by and watch 40 million people plunge into chaos because electricity can't be supplied and no financial system exists, that cannot and should not be the goal of the international community," German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. 

The United Nations and Qatar, a key broker in Afghanistan which has also hosted talks between the US and the Taliban, were also invited to Tuesday's closed door talks.

The EU emphasised its money would go to international organisations working on the ground rather than the Taliban's interim government, which no other government has yet recognised.

However, Draghi said that the Taliban were crucial to getting the aid through, saying: "It's very hard to see how one can help the Afghan people... without some sort of involvement of the Taliban government.

"If they don’t want us to enter, we don’t enter."

- Safe haven for terrorists -

According to a briefing note published by Draghi's office, the G20 leaders emphsised the importance of respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially the rights of woman and minorities.

They also addressed the issue of security, with the Taliban itself facing a threat from the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), who have launched a series of deadly attacks.

"Afghanistan must not be a safe haven for terrorists and a threat for international security," the briefing note said, urging the Taliban "to rescind their links with terrorist groups".

The leaders "discussed the critical need to maintain a laser-focus on our enduring counterterrorism efforts, including against threats from ISIS-K", a White House statement added.

Turkey's Erdogan told G20 leaders in an address broadcast on national television that the Taliban "has not yet delivered what's expected". 

"We have not seen necessary inclusiveness from them on the issue of humanitarian assistance, security and prevention of Afghanistan being a base of terror organisations and prevention of extremism."

Taliban meet EU-US delegation

The Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint US-EU delegation Tuesday in Qatar, as Brussels pledged one billion euros ($1.2 billion) in aid for Afghanistan.

At the Doha meeting and a conference of the world's major economies, the G20, the message for the Taliban was the same: the world is committed to humanitarian aid for Afghanistan's suffering people, and the country must not become a base for militants.

The European Union opened the virtual G20 summit by pledging the one-billion-euro aid package, including money for urgent humanitarian needs and Afghanistan's neighbours taking in Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

The hardline Islamist 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.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the assistance meant "to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse".

She stressed the funds are "direct support" for Afghans and would be channelled to international organisations, not to the Taliban's interim government, which Brussels does not recognise. "We have been clear about our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities, including on the respect of human rights," she said.

US President Joe Biden was among leaders attending the summit. A White House statement said the leaders "discussed the critical need to maintain a laser-focus on our enduring counterterrorism efforts, including against threats from ISIS-K".

That was a reference to Islamic State-Khorasan, the Islamic State group's offshoot in the region, which is a bitter rival of the Taliban and has staged deadly attacks.

- Humanitarian situation 'priority' -

International aid has been blocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power following the withdrawal of US and other international troops after 20 years of war.

The country's assets held abroad have been frozen, while food prices and unemployment are rising, prompting warnings of a humanitarian disaster once winter arrives.

EU states are wary at the prospect of a surge of Afghan asylum-seekers trying to enter the bloc, as happened in 2015 with Syrians fleeing their country's war.

Brussels' calculation is that donating money to help stabilise Afghanistan and assist countries between it and Europe could stem any flow.

While the virtual summit took place, direct talks were held in Doha. That meeting was facilitated by Qatar, which has long hosted a Taliban political office.

"I think engaging with them (the Taliban) is the most important now," said Mutlaq al-Qahtani, a special envoy to Qatar's foreign minister, who brushed aside the question of whether to recognise a Taliban government.

"A priority as we speak now is the humanitarian (situation), is education, is free passage" of people wishing to leave, he told the Global Security Forum conference in Doha.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was looking at "pragmatic, practical engagement", rather than recognition.

The relationship "will be determined by the conduct of the Taliban and any future government", Price told reporters in Washington.

EU spokeswoman Nabila Massrali described the meeting as "an informal exchange at technical level" that "does not constitute recognition of the 'interim government'."