EU pledges $1.15 billion in aid to Afghanistan as part of US talks with Taliban

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 has pledged 1 billion euros, or $1.15 billion, to aid Afghanistan and neighboring countries, as G20 leaders separately affirmed their support for human rights and stability in the country.

“We must do everything we can to avoid a major humanitarian, social and economic collapse in Afghanistan,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said in a statement. “We need to do this quickly.”

But after two meetings with Taliban officials over the past few days, the Biden administration has announced no new US aid to the country as it navigates its approach to an Afghan government run by a group that has fought the United States for nearly 20 years.

Experts said the EU funding, some of which had already been pledged last month, was at best a temporary solution to the huge need in Afghanistan, a country of 30 million people whose financial system is on the verge 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 G-20 meeting produced a declaration of often familiar principles, including the need to protect Afghan women’s rights and the need to allow the Taliban to allow the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid. President Biden participated in the virtual gathering, but some key leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, did not.

The Biden administration emphasized its support for “the use of diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means” to help the Afghan people — but only after it first emphasized that leaders at the meeting discussed the need to maintain a “laser focus” on counterterrorism and safe passage out of the country for foreign nationals and Afghans eligible for asylum in United State.

Terrorism and safe passage were the main topics of discussion in two separate meetings that US officials held with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, over the past several days, officials said, the first of its kind since the Taliban formed the government last month. Officials have said that bigger and more risky decisions, such as granting the Taliban diplomatic recognition, or unfreezing billions of dollars in Afghan assets, are not imminent.

Briefing reporters on Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said denying terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ensuring an exit from the country for people at risk were “essential national interests,” a designation he did not. Apply to help the Afghan people.

More social chaos could fuel extremism within Afghanistan’s borders and cause an influx of refugees at a time when Europe is still grappling with a wave of migrants over the past decade that has destabilized governments and fueled far-right nationalism.

Price noted that the United States agreed to provide nearly $64 million in humanitarian aid to the country in recent weeks, and that a representative from the U.S. Agency for International Development joined the weekend session that American officials had with the Taliban.

Decisions with comprehensive ramifications — including whether to formally recognize the new Afghan government, and the crucial question of whether to unfreeze the $9.5 billion in Afghan national assets held by the Federal Reserve — will depend on how the Taliban chooses to rule the country. Price said.

The cold realities of Afghanistan’s needs are “directly at odds with the politics of the situation,” said Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Program for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit focused on deadly conflicts.

“How can the Biden administration release those assets without being accused of providing billions of dollars to the Taliban?” She said.

Ms. Miller said humanitarian aid would help in the short term but would only do so much to support a country facing the prospect of economic collapse.

The disruption of the banking and payment system could also complicate the distribution of foreign aid. In a statement, Nicephore Maghndi, head of the Afghan delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, warned of an “severe cash shortage” that could lead to the disruption of basic health care and other services.

A senior administration official said the United States was in no hurry to unfreeze Afghan assets, or provide diplomatic recognition — repeating the US position that the Taliban must show they govern comprehensively, protect human rights, prevent terrorist activity and ensure freedom of movement from the country. .

The official also stressed that releasing the funds would not necessarily be key to avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe, given that the Taliban had yet to prove to the international community that they could distribute and manage the funds responsibly.

Adela Raz, who was the former ambassador to the Afghan government in Washington before the Taliban took power, and who continues to operate from the country’s embassy without direction from the Taliban, acknowledged that the United States and other governments faced “very difficult” decisions on how to do this. Balancing pressure on the Taliban with supporting regular Afghans.

“The Afghan people should not be taken hostage,” Ms. Raz said in an interview.

But, she said, “there is not much change” so far from the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, when it denied Afghan girls and women basic rights and education, and imposed the law with amputations and public executions.

For the international community, she said, helping the Afghan people without backing the Taliban presented a “unique” challenge. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said.

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 does not constitute recognition of the Taliban as the Taliban. legitimate government.

This position is similar to that taken by the Biden administration, which refers to the male and hard-line Taliban leaders in general who run the country as a “transitional government,” a phrase that signifies hope – what many analysts call it far – for a more inclusive government to come.

The EU pledge It includes the 300 million euros in humanitarian aid that has already been announced, along with another 250 million to provide additional support to those “who are in dire need, particularly in the field of health,” said Ms. von der Leyen.

The money will go to international organizations already working in Afghanistan, as recent US aid has done.

On Tuesday, Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, said the new Taliban government had generally cooperated with UN aid agencies, and “gradually allowed access to needed areas and provided security when needed.”

Although the Taliban kidnapped and killed foreign aid workers during their two-decade insurgency, they have a great interest in pacifying the international community now that they are in power, hoping for diplomatic recognition and direct economic support to rebuild a devastated impoverished country. After decades of war.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who hosted the G-20 meeting, called it “the first multilateral response to the Afghan crisis.” “Multilateralism is back,” he added in a press conference at the end of the meeting.

Mr. Draghi said the leaders’ discussions went beyond blame for the fall of the Afghan capital, Kabul, an issue he said dominated last month’s UN General Assembly meeting, to the issue of humanitarian relief. “This at least allows us to overcome the inevitable differences in viewpoints,” he said.

Providing assistance, Mr. Draghi said, requires talking to the Taliban – but not formally recognizing it.

“There is no substitute for contacting them,” he said. “It is necessary for this response to be effective.”

Michael Crowley Reported from Washington, Stephen Erlanger from Brussels. Emma Popola Contributed to reporting from Rome, Thomas Gibbons Neff From Kabul, Afghanistan, and Zulan Kanu Young from Washington.

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