US says it discussed aid in talks in Doha but Taliban say deal agreed that stops short of formal recognition of new rulers
The United States has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to a desperately poor Afghanistan on the brink of an economic disaster, but refused to give political recognition to the country’s new rulers, the Taliban said on Sunday.
The statement came at the end of the first direct talks between the former foes since the chaotic withdrawal of US troops at the end of August.
The US statement was less definitive, saying only that the two sides “discussed the United States’ provision of robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people”.
The talks came as the US warned its citizens to immediately leave the area around the Serena hotel in Kabul on Sunday night, citing security fears.
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 United States made it clear that the talks were in no way a preamble to recognition of the Taliban, which swept into power on 15 August after the US-allied government collapsed.
State department spokesman Ned Price called the discussions “candid and professional”, with the US reiterating that the Taliban would be judged on their actions rather than their words.
“The US delegation focused on security and terrorism concerns and safe passage for US 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,” Price said in a statement.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the movement’s interim foreign minister assured the US during the talks that the Taliban were committed to seeing that Afghan soil was 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 Islamic State group in Afghanistan.
The group, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including Friday’s suicide bombing that killed 46 minority Shia Muslims. Washington considers Islamic State 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 US to contain the Islamic State affiliate. He used an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies who tracks militant groups, agreed the Taliban did not need Washington’s help to hunt down and destroy Afghanistan’s IS affiliate, known as the Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP.
The Taliban “fought 20 years to eject the US, and the last thing it needs is the return of the US. It also doesn’t need US help,” said Roggio, who 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.”
The IS affiliate doesn’t have the advantage of havens in Pakistan and Iran that the Taliban had in its fight against the US, Roggio said. However, he warned that the Taliban’s longtime support for al-Qaida made them unreliable as a counter-terrorism partner with the United States.
The Taliban gave refuge to al-Qaida before that group carried out the 9/11 attacks. That prompted the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan that drove the Taliban from power.
During the meeting, US officials were expected to press the Taliban to allow Americans and others to leave Afghanistan. In its statement, the Taliban said without elaborating that it would “facilitate principled movement of foreign nationals”.