2021-10-13 02:29:21 E.U. Pledges $1.15 Billion in Afghan Aid as U.S. Talks to Taliban
E.U. Pledges $1.15 Billion in Afghan Aid as U.S. Talks to Taliban
WASHINGTON (AP) — On Tuesday, world leaders virtually met to discuss ways to avoid an economic and humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, but the Biden administration remained cautious about providing more assistance to the Taliban-ruled country.
The European Union pledged $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan and neighboring countries, while Group of 20 leaders separately affirmed their support for human rights and stability in the country.
“We must do everything possible to avert a major humanitarian and socioeconomic collapse in Afghanistan,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a statement. “We need to get it done quickly.”
However, despite two meetings with Taliban officials in recent days, the Biden administration did not announce any new American aid for the country as it navigates its approach to an Afghan government run by a group that has fought the US for nearly 20 years.
According to experts, the E.U. funding, some of which had already been pledged last month, was at best a temporary solution to the enormous need in Afghanistan, a country of 30 million people whose financial system is on the verge of collapsing. Since mid-August, when the Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban took power, most international aid to the country has been cut off.
The Group of 20 meeting resulted in a declaration of mostly familiar principles, such as the need to protect Afghan women’s rights and for the Taliban to allow humanitarian aid to flow freely. President Biden took part in the virtual gathering, but some key leaders, including Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, did not.
The Biden administration expressed support for “using diplomatic, humanitarian, and economic means” to assist the Afghan people, but only after emphasizing that leaders at the meeting discussed the need to maintain a “laser focus” on counterterrorism and the safe passage of foreign nationals and Afghans eligible for asylum in the United States.
Terrorism and safe passage were the main topics of discussion in a separate pair of meetings between US officials and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, over the past few days — the first of their kind since the Taliban formed a government last month. Larger and far more contentious decisions, such as whether to grant the Taliban diplomatic recognition or unfreeze billions of dollars in Afghan assets, are not on the horizon, according to officials.
The State Department’s spokesman, Ned Price, told reporters on Tuesday that denying a safe haven to terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ensuring a way out of the country for vulnerable people were “core national interests,” a label he did not apply to aid to the Afghan people.
Further social unrest within Afghanistan’s borders could fuel radicalism and spark refugee flows at a time when Europe is still dealing with a migrant surge that has destabilized governments and fueled far-right nationalism over the last decade.
Mr. Price noted that the US had approved nearly $64 million in humanitarian aid for the country in recent weeks, and that a representative from the US Agency for International Development attended a weekend meeting with Taliban officials.
Decisions with broader implications, such as whether to officially recognize the new Afghan government and whether to unfreeze $9.5 billion in Afghan national assets held by the Federal Reserve, would be determined by how the Taliban chooses to govern the country, according to Mr. Price.
The cold facts of Afghanistan’s needs, according to Laurel Miller, director of the Asia Program for the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit organization focused on deadly conflicts, are “in direct conflict with the politics of the situation.”
“How can the Biden administration release those assets without being accused of handing over billions of dollars to the Taliban?” she wondered.
Ms. Miller stated that while humanitarian aid would be beneficial in the short term, it could only do so much to help a country facing economic collapse.
A shattered banking and payment system could also make it difficult to distribute foreign aid. In a statement, Necephor Mghendi, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ Afghanistan delegation, warned of “a dire cash shortage” that could cause essential health care and other services to “grind to a halt.”
A senior administration official stated that the US was not in a hurry to unfreeze Afghan assets or provide diplomatic recognition, reiterating the US position that the Taliban must demonstrate that they are governing inclusively, protecting human rights, preventing terrorist activity, and ensuring freedom of movement out of the country.
The official also stressed that releasing the funds would not necessarily be the key to averting a humanitarian disaster, because the Taliban had yet to demonstrate to the international community that they could distribute and manage the funds responsibly.
Adela Raz, the previous Afghan government’s ambassador to Washington before the Taliban took power and who continues to work from the country’s embassy without direction from the Taliban, acknowledged that the US and other governments faced “very difficult” decisions about how to balance pressure on the Taliban with support for ordinary Afghans.
“The Afghan people should not be held hostage,” said Ms. Raz in an interview.
But, she added, “there hasn’t been much of a change” since the Taliban government ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s, when it denied Afghan girls and women basic rights and education and enforced the law through amputations and public executions.
Assisting the Afghan people while not supporting the Taliban, she said, presented a “unique” challenge for the international community. “We’ve never seen anything like this before,” she explained.