Afghanistan's Taliban said Thursday their forthcoming negotiations with the United States will be centered on lifting sanctions on the country, unfreezing its central bank assets, and removing Taliban leaders from a so-called U.N. blacklist.
The two former adversaries are scheduled to meet in Qatar's capital, Doha, later this week. Tom West, U.S. special representative on Afghanistan, will lead his team along with Rina Amiri, special envoy for Afghan women, girls, and human rights.
Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi will lead the Taliban delegation in talks with U.S. officials. His office said in a statement that "stopping violation of Afghanistan's airspace" by the U.S. will also be on the agenda.
The U.S. team will meet Taliban delegates and "technocratic professionals" from key Afghan ministries in Doha to discuss "critical interests" in Afghanistan, the State Department said Wednesday.
"Priority issues will include humanitarian support for the people of Afghanistan, economic stabilization, fair and dignified treatment of all Afghans, including women and girls, security issues, and efforts to counter narcotics production and trafficking," the U.S. announcement said.
In the run-up to their talks in Qatar, the U.S. delegation traveled to Kazakhstan, where they met officials from Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan for a special session to discuss joint support for the Afghan people.
"I thank them all individually for a highly substantive exchange on critical issues, including security, human rights, the economy, and humanitarian needs," West said on X, formerly known as Twitter, after the meeting in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
No country has formally recognized the Taliban since the hardline group returned to power in Kabul in August 2021, when U.S.-led NATO troops chaotically withdrew after 20 years of involvement in the Afghan war.
"This does not indicate any change in the policy of the United States. We have been very clear that we will engage with the Taliban appropriately when it is in our interest to do so," Vedant Patel, the State Department deputy spokesman, told reporters Wednesday.
"This does not intend to mean any kind of indication of recognition or any kind of indication of normalization or legitimacy of the Taliban."
Patel reiterated U.S. concerns about "the egregious human rights abuses" by the Taliban and their "marginalization" of Afghan women and girls.
The fundamentalist de facto rulers have imposed their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or sharia, to govern impoverished Afghanistan, banning women and girls from education beyond about a sixth-grade level. They have barred women from most employment and visiting public places such as parks, gyms, and bathhouses.
The U.N. and other aid agencies also have been banned from hiring female Afghan staff, undermining humanitarian operations in a country where more than 28 million people need food aid.
The World Food Program has cut 8 million food-insecure Afghans from assistance due to budget shortages.
The international community has denounced Taliban curbs on Afghan women and demanded the restrictions be reversed. The fundamentalist leaders dismiss criticism of their rule, insisting that it is aligned with the Afghan culture and Islamic law.
Special Envoy Amiri tweeted Thursday that in her recent meetings with representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Albania, Bangladesh, and Morocco, they stated that women's rights "are protected in Islam & key to economic progress and stability."
She noted there was "wide agreement that the extreme repression of Afghan women & girls sets a dangerous precedent, particularly for Muslim-majority countries; these policies should not be normalized & the world must stand with Afghan women & girls."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this report stated that “the [Taliban] ban [on women workers] forced the World Food Program to cut 8 million food-insecure Afghans from assistance.” It has been changed to clarify that “the World Food Program cut 8 million food-insecure Afghans from assistance due to a budget shortfall and not due to the Taliban prohibiting the U.N. from employing female workers.”