- The Taliban joins the first major international negotiations since taking power
- Ten other nations are taking part in the Moscow negotiations, the United States absent
- Russia is at the forefront of calling for humanitarian aid
MOSCOW, October 20 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers won the backing of 10 regional powers at talks in Moscow on Wednesday for the idea of a UN donors’ conference to help the country avert economic collapse and a humanitarian catastrophe.
Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran and five former Soviet Central Asian states joined the Taliban and called on the UN to convene such a conference as soon as possible to help rebuild the country.
They said it should be done “with the understanding, of course, that the main burden … should be borne by the forces whose military contingents have been present in this country for the last 20 years”.
It was a sharp reference to the United States and its allies, who invaded Afghanistan after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and whose abrupt withdrawal paved the way for the Islamist Taliban to regain control of the country in August.
Washington chose not to participate in the negotiations with reference to technical reasons, but has said it may participate in future rounds.
Russia has led calls for international assistance, aware that any contagious conflict from Afghanistan could threaten regional stability.
“Nobody is interested in the complete paralysis of an entire state bordering, among others, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States),” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The Taliban’s resurgence has raised international fears of a return to their harsh form of Islamist rule in the 1990s, when they hosted Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda movement and committed gross human rights abuses, including public stoning and marginalization of women at work and in schools.
Since returning to power, the Taliban say they have moved as quickly as possible to open up their government and guarantee women’s rights, and that they do not represent a threat to any other country.
“Afghanistan will never allow the country’s land to be used as a base for anyone to threaten another country’s security,” said Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
Abdul Salam Hanafi, the deputy prime minister who led the delegation, said: “It is not in anyone’s interest to isolate Afghanistan.”
While governments around the world, including Russia, have refused to give official recognition to the Taliban government, the communiqué acknowledged the “new reality” of their takeover.
Russia’s initiative to host the talks is part of an effort to increase the country’s influence in the region following the US withdrawal. Its biggest fears are the risk of instability in Central Asia and possible migrant flows and Islamist militant activity directed from Afghanistan.
Concerns have been heightened following a series of attacks by the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State – called Islamic State in Khorasan province after an old name for the region – on mosques and other targets that have killed hundreds of people.
Russia fought its own disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has close military and political ties with former Soviet Central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan.
In addition to saying that no militant groups will be able to operate from Afghanistan, the Taliban has said it will protect the rights of women and minorities. But many women and girls have been prevented from going to work or school, and the temporary cabinet includes only men.
Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, author by Mark Trevelyan and James MacKenzie, edited by Peter Graff, Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich
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