Thousands of kilometers away from Kabul, several high- level talks, summits and meetings on Afghanistan have been taking place in the Qatari capital of Doha. It was the first time since the pull out of foreign troops, the Taliban held their first face-to-face discussion with the United States (US) on security and “terrorism” concerns, the rights of women and girls as well as evacuations from Afghanistan on 9-10 October.[i] The Taliban later met a joint European Union (EU)- US delegation in Qatar, as the new rulers of Afghanistan continue their diplomatic campaign for international support. Subsequently, on October 12, the Group of 20 (G20) countries plus Qatar held an ‘Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan’ virtually, to discuss response to the looming humanitarian crisis in the country.
With the departure of the foreign troops and return of the Taliban, at least 500,000 Afghans have been displaced and at least 18 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.[ii] There is an acute shortage of items of necessities in the country aggravated by the abrupt snapping of financial aid by the key international sources to Afghanistan (which accounted for the majority of the country’s spending) after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 15.
The meeting was convened by Italy, the current chair of G20 and was attended by heads of G20 states including US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, key European leaders including the Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel Macron and leaders of important international organisations. President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin sent representatives rather than attending the meeting themselves. Italian PM Draghi mentioned the absence of the latter two leaders did not undercut the importance of the meeting organised by Italy and highlighted - "This was the first multilateral response to the Afghan crisis ... multilateralism is coming back, with difficulty, but it is coming back."[iii]
After the meeting, the Italian PM informed that there was a unanimous agreement among the participants about the need to alleviate the crisis in Afghanistan, where banks are running out of money, civil servants have not been paid and food prices have soared, leaving millions at risk of severe hunger and that G20 has agreed to work together to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, even if it means having to coordinate efforts with the Taliban.[iv] The aid will mostly be channeled through the United Nations, but there will also be direct country-to country assistance, despite a refusal by most states to officially recognise the hardline Taliban government.
With the aim of addressing the urgent humanitarian needs of Afghanistan and to help the neighboring countries manage the Afghan refugees to have taken refuge ever since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the EU pledged one billion euros ($1.2 billion) aid package on October 12.[v] This would be an addition to the sum of 250 million euros to 300 million euro that the EU had announced for urgent humanitarian needs on September 13.[vi] The EU, however stressed its money would go to international organisations working on the ground rather than the Taliban, which has not been recognised by any other government. EU development aid – different from humanitarian aid – remains frozen.
Although the Taliban announced its all-male Cabinet last month, it has struggled to govern amid a liquidity crisis after it was cut off from the international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. During the two-day talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha prior to the G20 meeting, the Afghan delegation led by acting foreign minister of the Taliban government Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi urged the US to end economic sanction and to “unfreeze” $10 billion worth assets.[vii] The Afghan delegation indicated that it did not have the financial capacity to pay the government employees and provide services to Afghans amid a looming economic and humanitarian crisis. However, neither side has made any statement on whether any agreement was reached on that issue. Ned Price, spokesman for the US Department of State’s US delegation, however reiterated US’s position “that the Taliban will be judged on its actions, not only its words.”[viii]
Prime Minister Modi speaking at the G20 meeting on Afghanistan[ix], emphasised the need for the international community to ensure that Afghanistan has immediate and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance. At the same time, he underlined the need to ensure that Afghan territory does not become a source of radicalisation and terrorism, regionally or globally and stressed on the need to enhance the joint fight against the nexus of radicalisation, terrorism and the smuggling of drugs and arms in the region. PM also called for an inclusive administration in Afghanistan, which includes women and minorities in order to preserve the gains of the last 20 years.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the G20 leaders called on the Taliban to tackle militant groups operating out of the country. They said future humanitarian programs should focus on women and girls, and that safe passage should be given to those Afghans who wished to leave the country.[x] In his statement, the Chair[xi] underlined that “the Taliban must guarantee full access to humanitarian assistance by all those in need, wherever they live in Afghanistan”, while categorically mentioning that “the Taliban would be judged by their deeds, not their words”, and that the world was especially concerned about the plight of women in the impoverished nation. There is a unanimous recognition within the international community about the need to address the looming economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan to help Afghan people, yet how that aid and assistance can be delivered to Afghan people without (or limited) coordination with the Taliban government, which the international community has not recognised; remains to be seen.
*Dr. Anwesha Ghosh, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] “Taliban, US conclude ‘candid, professional’ talks in Doha.” Al Jazeera, Oct10. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/10/taliban-delegation-concludes-talks-with-us-delegation-in-doha (Accessed on 11.10.2021)
[ii] “Internal displacement in Afghanistan has soared by 73% since June. “International Rescue Committee, August 2021. Available at https://www.rescue.org/press-release/irc-internal-displacement-afghanistan-has-soared-73-june (Accessed on 11.10.2021)
[iii] “G20 agrees aid to avert Afghanistan humanitarian crisis”, Al Jazeera, Oct13, 2021. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/13/g20-agrees-aid-to-avert-afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis (Accessed on 11.10.2021)
[v] “EU announces 1 bn Euro aid package for Afghanistan”. AL Jazeera, Oct 12, 2021. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/12/eu-announces-1-15bn-aid-package-for-afghanistan (Accessed on 11.10.2021)
[vii] “Taliban, US conclude ‘candid, professional’ talks in Doha.” Al Jazeera, Oct10. Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/10/taliban-delegation-concludes-talks-with-us-delegation-in-doha (Accessed on 12.10.2021)
[viii] “U.S. says Taliban talks in Doha were 'candid and professional'”. Reuters, Oct 11. Available at: https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-delegation-ends-discussions-with-us-delegation-doha-2021-10-10/ (Accessed on 12.10.2021)
[x] “G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan”, Joint Statement, October 12, 2021. Available at: https://www.g20.org/g20-extraordinary-leaders-meeting-on-afghanistan.html (Accessed on 12.10.2021)
[xi] “G20 Extraordinary Leaders’ Meeting on Afghanistan”, Chair’s Statement, October 12, 2021. Available at: https://www.g20.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/ChairsSummary.pdf (Accessed on 12.10.2021)