G20 leaders agree to involve Taliban in distributing Afghanistan aid

Leaders agree in principle that funds can be channelled through UN agencies to avert ‘humanitarian meltdown’

G20 leaders and ministers have agreed they will have no option but to involve the Taliban in sending humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, but say that this stops short of political recognition of the Taliban as a government.

The consensus view came at a video conference on the Afghan crisis at which the EU stepped up its aid to a total of €1bn (£850m), and it was agreed in principle that the IMF and World Bank could provide aid. Nearly $9bn of Afghan assets in overseas banks have been frozen by the US.

Aid agencies such as the International Rescue Committee say Afghanistan is on the verge of “a humanitarian meltdown” since it has been 75% dependent on foreign aid to survive – and support has dried up since the Taliban seized power in August.

Mario Draghi, the Italian prime minister and current rotating chair of the G20, said there was a consensus at the meeting to act through the UN, and its agencies. “Addressing the humanitarian crisis will require contacts with the Taliban, but this does not mean their recognition. We must acknowledge that they will be judged for what they do, not for what they say.”

He added: “It is very hard to see how you can help people in Afghanistan without involving the Taliban.”

Draghi said the lives of women had gone back 20 years adding “right now” there was no visible progress on human rights, women’s rights, education or an inclusive government, the issues on which he said future recognition by other countries would hinge.

Overall, his remarks suggested a compromise between those who want use recognition, and access to aid as a lever to moderate the Taliban, and those that say collective punishment of the Afghan people by withholding aid now is not an option.

The meeting was the first time the world’s richest countries have met to discuss the consequences of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But neither the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, nor the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, joined the call, sending their foreign ministers. Boris Johnson did not take part either since he was on holiday.

In a reflection of the diplomatic tensions, Russia has arranged a rival Afghanistan conference in Moscow on 20 October, to which Pakistan, India and Iran, as well as the Taliban have been invited.

The European Union kicked off proceedings by announcing an extra €700m in emergency aid to Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The pledge takes the total commitment of new funding to €1bn, after the EU executive’s promise of €300m to help prevent basic services in Afghanistan from collapsing and food from running out.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said the country was at a make-or-break moment. He told reporters in New York: “Respecting international law and principles, we have to find ways to inject liquidity into the economy for the economy not to collapse. If we do not act and help Afghans weather this storm, and do it soon, not only they but all the world will pay a heavy price.”

He said the cash could be injected via UN trust funds, and other instruments. “I am particularly alarmed to see promises made to Afghan women and girls by the Taliban not being honoured,” he added.

He added the UN through September had engaged province by province with the Taliban to ensure UN female staff could be free to work unimpeded on humanitarian aid.

The World Bank and the IMF, both of which have funds that could help with reconstruction also attended. Qatar, which has played a vital role as a hub for refugees fleeing the country, has been invited, and discussions are likely on the opening up of Kabul airport.

In the run-up to the summit and speaking in Doha, Afghanistan’s foreign minister appealed to the world for good relations but avoided making firm commitments on girls’ education, despite international demands to allow all Afghan children to go back to school.

“The international community needs to start cooperating with us,” the acting foreign minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, said at an event organised by the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

“With this we will be able to stop insecurity and at the same time with this we will be able to engage positively with the world,” he said.

Calling for the world to release $9bn of frozen Afghan assets held overseas, Muttaqi said: “The Daesh issue has been controlled by the Islamic emirate very well so far,” he said, adding that international pressure on the government was helping Islamic State’s morale. “Instead of pressure, the world should cooperate with us,.”


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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