An international Russia-hosted meeting Wednesday pressed the Taliban to form a “truly inclusive” government in Afghanistan and called for the United Nations to convene a donor conference as soon as possible to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe facing the war-torn country.
The huddle, known as the Moscow format consultations on Afghanistan, was held with the participation of leaders of the interim Taliban government and senior officials from Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, India, as well as five formerly Soviet Central Asian states.
“Participating countries call on the current Afghan leadership to take further steps to improve governance and to form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country,” said a post-meeting joint statement.
The delegates expressed “deep concern” over the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, stressing the need for the international community to mobilize efforts to provide assistance to the Afghan people.
Participants proposed to convene the U.N.-led donor conference “certainly with the understanding that the core burden of post-conflict economic and financial reconstruction and development of Afghanistan must be shouldered by troop-based actors which were in the country for the past 20 years.”
The statement pointedly referred to the United States and Western allied troops, whose abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years paved the way for the Taliban to regain control of the country in August.
Washington also was invited to the Moscow talks, but U.S. officials cited technical reasons for not attending, though they promised to join future rounds.
While the West and world in general have refused to give official recognition to the Taliban government, Wednesday’s joint statement recognized the “new reality” of the fundamentalist group’s return to power in Kabul.
Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while opening the meeting lauded the Taliban government’s efforts to improve the security and political situation.
“[However], we see the formula for its successful solution mainly in the formation of a truly inclusive government, which should fully reflect the interests of all, not only ethnic, but also political forces of the country,” Lavrov said.
The head of the Taliban delegation, Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi, while addressing the meeting, renewed a call for the global community to recognize the new government in Kabul and again demanded the United States unfreeze about $10 billon in Afghan central bank in foreign reserves.
Hanafi defended his interim government as "already inclusive” and said they would not accept any deal under pressure and cautioned against “isolating” Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s return to power has raised concerns whether they will protect human rights of Afghans and whether they will prevent the country from becoming a terror sanctuary. The worries stem from the Islamist movement’s rule in the 1990s, when it hosted leaders of the al-Qaida network and barred women from public life and girls from receiving an education.
The Taliban have dismissed those fears, saying they have opened government offices for both male and female staff to return to work and girls are gradually being allowed to resume education activities.
But the hardline group is already under fire for reneging on some of its pledges to protect human rights and is being accused of persecuting members of the ousted Afghan government.
“I would like to remind you all that the people of Afghanistan have no intention of harming any country or nation in the world,” Hanafi assured Wednesday’s meeting. He said the Taliban government “stands ready to address all the concerns of the international community with complete clarity, transparency and openness.”
Hanafi’s speech to the meeting in the Russian capital came a day after Deputy U.S. Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo said he sees no situation where the Taliban would be allowed access to its funds in the U.S. reserves.
“We believe that it's essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people. That's exactly what we're doing," Adeyemo told the Senate Banking Committee.
The U.S. and other Western countries are working out how to engage with the Taliban without giving them the legitimacy they seek, while facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid to Afghans.
Adeyemo said the Treasury was taking every step it could within its sanctions program to make clear to humanitarian groups that Washington wants to facilitate the flow of aid into Afghanistan.
Russia says its diplomatic offensive to garner support for Kabul stems from concerns that continued instability would encourage terrorist groups to threaten the security of Afghanistan’s neighbors and the wider region.
Lavrov highlighted those fears while opening Wednesday’s meeting and urged the Taliban to deliver on their pledge to prevent terrorist groups from threatening Russia’s “friends and allies.”
The Afghan branch of Islamist State, known as IS-Khorasan, has in recent weeks carried out dozens of bomb attacks, killing and injuring hundreds of people across Afghanistan, most of them civilians.
The violence is of major concern to neighboring countries and is raising questions about the Taliban’s ability to counter the growing terror threat.