Amid Taliban diplomacy, Qatar emphasizes engagement

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Qatar’s foreign minister said isolating Afghanistan and its new Taliban leadership “will never be an answer” and argued on Wednesday that engaging with former insurgents could strengthen the more moderate voices among them.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani spoke amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings taking place in Qatar, where the Taliban have maintained a political office for years in the run-up to their takeover of Afghanistan in August.

The world looked to see how the Taliban went from two decades of insurgency and war to governance after taking control of Kabul and the rest of Afghanistan as US and NATO forces withdrew from the country.

This week, the United States, 10 European countries and representatives of the European Union held face-to-face talks with Taliban leaders in the Qatari capital, Doha – the first of such meetings since the Taliban blitz.

Al Thani told an audience of counterterrorism experts in Doha that Qatar believes the international community should urge the Taliban “to take the right steps and encourage” that – rather than just talking about penalizing them for “negative measures”.

“We see that it is very important to provide them with advice,” he said. “It will create an incentive for progress and the way forward.”

“This will help the moderate power (voice) to also provide an incentive to be more influential and effective in their government,” Al Thani added.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington made it clear in talks with the Taliban this week that the group would be judged on its actions on issues related to the fight against terrorism and the protection of human rights.

He declined to discuss the “various carrot and stick approaches” to Afghan central bank reserves, currently frozen abroad and inaccessible to Taliban leaders.

“We have engaged on a practical and pragmatic basis with the Taliban, as we have done in recent weeks, focusing on issues of security and terrorism,” Price told reporters Tuesday in Washington. The Taliban and the United States share a common concern about the more radical Islamic State group in Afghanistan, but the Taliban has ruled out cooperation with the United States in the fight against ISIS.

However, the most pressing problem Afghanistan faces is worsening poverty as the country relies heavily on international aid. Its financial system is collapsing and millions of people are going hungry. The Taliban are struggling to pay the salaries of most teachers, doctors and half a million civil servants. The prices of basic foodstuffs have increased and the country is struggling to import medicines as it is blocked from the global financial system.

The EU on Tuesday announced a support plan worth € 1 billion ($ 1.15 billion), including € 300 million ($ 346 million) that had been pledged earlier, to help the Afghan people during the crisis. The United States, the largest donor to Afghanistan, has provided $ 330 million this year.

“Isolation will never be the answer,” Al Thani said at the Global Security Forum in Doha. “Engagement is needed with whoever governs Afghanistan, because abandoning Afghanistan would be a big mistake. “

The forum, hosted by the Soufan Center, drew in-person and virtual speakers from US security and counterterrorism agencies, as well as officials and experts from other countries.

Qatar’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan has become increasingly vital following the chaotic withdrawal of US troops and the hasty US airlift of more than 100,000 people from Kabul in August. The tiny gas-rich Arab nation served as a transit point for some 60,000 evacuees.

Qatar describes its role as that of a mediator in talks with the Taliban. The US-Taliban deal known as the Doha Accord was signed in Qatar in February 2020, paving the way for the US to exit Afghanistan.

The Taliban say they want international recognition, warning that their weakening government will affect security and trigger an even greater exodus of migration from the country. They also face an increasingly active Islamic State group, which has stepped up attacks in recent weeks, including a suicide bombing on Friday in a Shiite mosque in Kunduz town that killed 46 worshipers and left many injured.

The international community has condemned certain actions of the Taliban since the collapse of the Afghan government backed by the United States. The Taliban have reinstated public hangings and other brutal tactics. They only allowed girls to go back to primary school but banned them from going to high school in all provinces except one. Women were not allowed to return to work.

Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who is among the participants in Doha this week, said the Taliban rejects the imposition of ideologies and political models external to Afghanistan.

“Differences of ideas, ideologies, ethnicities, languages ​​are a reality, and this reality must be recognized,” Muttaqi told an audience at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies. “Just as we are able to grasp the differences of others with us, our expectation is that others also grasp our differences with them. “

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