The United States has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to a desperately poor Afghanistan on the brink of economic disaster, however, refused to politically recognize the country's new Taliban rulers, the Taliban said Sunday.
The statement came at the end of the first direct talks between the former foes since the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of August. The U.S. statement was less definitive, saying only that the two sides "discussed the U.S.' provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people."
The Taliban said the talks held in Doha, Qatar, "went well,” with Washington freeing up humanitarian aid to Afghanistan after agreeing not to link such assistance to formal recognition of the Taliban. The U.S. made it clear that the talks were in no way a preamble to recognition of the Taliban, who swept into power Aug. 15 after the U.S.-allied government collapsed.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price called the discussions "candid and professional,” with the U.S. side reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on their actions, not only their words.
"The discussions were candid and professional with the U.S. delegation reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words," Price said in a statement. "The U.S. delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for U.S. citizens, other foreign nationals and our Afghan partners, as well as on human rights, including the meaningful participation of women and girls in all aspects of Afghan society.”
Taliban political spokesperson Suhail Shaheen also told The Associated Press (AP) that Amir Khan Muttaqi, the foreign minister in the interim Taliban cabinet, assured the U.S. during the talks that the Taliban are committed to seeing that Afghan soil is not used by extremists to launch attacks against other countries.
On Saturday, however, the Taliban ruled out cooperation with Washington on containing the increasingly active Daesh terrorist group in Afghanistan. Daesh, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including Friday's suicide bombing that killed 46 minority Shiite Muslims. Washington considers Daesh its greatest terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan.
"We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Shaheen said when asked whether the Taliban would work with the U.S. to contain the Daesh affiliate.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who tracks militant groups, agreed the Taliban do not need Washington's help to hunt down and destroy Afghanistan's Daesh affiliate.
The Taliban "fought 20 years to eject the U.S., and the last thing it needs is the return of the U.S. It also doesn’t need U.S. help,” said Roggio, who also produces the foundation's Long War Journal. "The Taliban has to conduct the difficult and time-consuming task of rooting out ISKP cells and its limited infrastructure. It has all the knowledge and tools it needs to do it,” he said, using another acronym for Daesh-Khorasan Province (Daesh-K).
The Daesh affiliate doesn't have the advantage of safe havens in Pakistan and Iran that the Taliban had in its fight against the U.S., Roggio said. However, he warned that the Taliban's longtime support for al-Qaida make them unreliable as counterterrorism partners with the U.S.
The Taliban gave refuge to al-Qaida before it carried out the 9/11 attacks. That prompted the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power.
"It is insane for the U.S. to think the Taliban can be a reliable counterterrorism partner, given the Taliban’s enduring support for al-Qaida,” Roggio said.
During the meeting, U.S. officials were expected to press the Taliban to allow Americans and others to leave Afghanistan. In their statement, the Taliban said without elaborating that they would "facilitate principled movement of foreign nationals."
On Saturday, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television quoted Afghanistan's acting foreign minister as saying that Taliban representatives asked the U.S. side to lift a ban on Afghan central bank reserves. It said Muttaqi, also said Washington would offer Afghans COVID-19 vaccines and that the two sides discussed "opening a new page" between the two countries. Biden administration officials told Reuters Friday the U.S. delegation would press the Taliban to release kidnapped American Mark Frerichs.
U.S. officials say they are in contact with dozens of Americans and legal permanent residents who wish to leave Afghanistan and there are thousands of U.S.-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution still in the country. Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large in Afghanistan.
According to media reports, the Taliban were asking the U.S delegation to end economic sanctions and to “unfreeze” $10 billion worth of assets.
The Taliban announced their fully male Cabinet last month, but they are struggling to manage a liquidity crisis after being cut off from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The group said it needs to pay government officials and provide services to Afghans amid the impending economic and humanitarian crisis.