ISLAMABAD (AP) – The United States has agreed to provide humanitarian aid to a desperately poor Afghanistan on the brink of economic disaster while refusing to give political recognition to the country’s new Taliban rulers, the Taliban said on Sunday.
The statement came at the end of the first direct talks between the former enemies since the chaotic withdrawal of US troops in late August.
The US statement was less definitive, saying only that the two sides “discussed the US delivery of robust humanitarian aid directly to the Afghan people.”
The Taliban said the talks in Doha, Qatar, “went well”, with Washington releasing humanitarian aid to Afghanistan after agreeing not to link such aid with formal recognition of the Taliban.
The United States made it clear that the talks were in no way a preamble to the recognition of the Taliban, who swept to power on August 15 after the collapse of the US-Allied government.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called the discussions “sincere and professional”, with the US side reiterating that the Taliban will be judged on their actions, not just 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,” he said. in a statement.
Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen also told the Associated Press that the movement’s interim foreign minister assured the United States during negotiations that the Taliban is obliged to see Afghan land not used by extremists to launch attacks on other countries.
On Saturday, however, the Taliban ruled out cooperation with Washington to limit the increasingly active Islamic State group in Afghanistan.
IS, an enemy of the Taliban, has claimed responsibility for a number of recent attacks, including Friday’s suicide bombing that killed 46 Shiite minority Muslims. Washington regards IS as its biggest terrorist threat originating from Afghanistan.
“We are able to tackle Daesh independently,” Shaheen said when asked if the Taliban would work with the United States to curb Islamic State affiliation. He used an Arabic acronym for IS.
Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who tracks militant groups, agreed that the Taliban does not need Washington’s help to hunt down and destroy Afghanistan’s IS affiliates, known as Islamic State in Khorasan province or ISKP .
The Taliban “fought for 20 years to oust the United States, and the last thing it needs is the return of the United States. It does not need American help either,” said Roggio, who also produces the fund’s Long War Journal. “The Taliban has to carry out the difficult and time-consuming task of eradicating ISKP cells and its limited infrastructure. It has all the knowledge and tools it needs to do so.”
The IS affiliation does not have the advantage that the Taliban had in its fight against the United States as a safe haven in Pakistan and Iran, Roggio said. However, he warned that the Taliban’s long-standing support for al-Qaeda would make them unreliable as counter-terrorism partners with the United States.
The Taliban took refuge in al-Qaeda before carrying out the 9/11 attacks. It prompted the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, which drove the Taliban from power.
“It is insane for the United States to believe that the Taliban can be a reliable counter-terrorism partner given the Taliban’s continued support for al-Qaeda,” Roggio said.
During the meeting, US officials were expected to pressure the Taliban to allow Americans and others to leave Afghanistan. In their statement, the Taliban said without elaborating that they would “facilitate the principled movement of foreign nationals.”
AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.