G20 leaders agree to work together on Afghan humanitarian effort

Group of 20 leaders agreed Tuesday to work together to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, as the European Union pledged a €1 billion aid package and host Italy stressed the need to maintain contacts with the Taliban.

As the extremist group held its first face-to-face talks with a U.S.-EU delegation in Qatar, U.S. President Joe Biden, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and India’s Narendra Modi joined a virtual summit on the looming economic and humanitarian crises sparked by the Taliban’s return to power.

The EU opened the talks by pledging €1 billion ($1.2 billion), including money for urgent humanitarian needs and Afghanistan’s neighbors who are taking in Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Draghi had been pushing for the G20 meeting since the August takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban, insisting debate over solutions must go beyond the usual club of Western allies.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend themselves, instead sending representatives, but Draghi insisted they all agreed on the need to help more.

“Instead of responding and arguing … we now have an awareness of this emergency and of the enormous responsibilities that the G20 has towards the Afghan people,” he told a post-summit press conference.

International aid has been blocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power, following the withdrawal of U.S. and other international troops after 20 years of war.

The country’s assets held abroad have been frozen, while food prices and unemployment are rising — prompting warnings of a humanitarian disaster once winter arrives.

“To stand by and watch 40 million people plunge into chaos because electricity can’t be supplied and no financial system exists, that cannot and should not be the goal of the international community,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

The United Nations and Qatar, a key broker in Afghanistan that has also hosted talks between the U.S. and the Taliban, were also invited to Tuesday’s closed-door talks.

The EU emphasized its money would go to international organizations working on the ground rather than the Taliban’s interim government, which no other government has yet recognized.

However, Draghi said that the Taliban were crucial to getting the aid through, saying: “It’s very hard to see how one can help the Afghan people … without some sort of involvement of the Taliban government. “If they don’t want us to enter, we don’t enter.”

According to a briefing note published by Draghi’s office, the G20 leaders emphasized the importance of respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially the rights of woman and minorities.

They also addressed the issue of security, with the Taliban itself facing a threat from the Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, known as Islamic State-Khorasan, which has launched a series of deadly attacks.

“Afghanistan must not be a safe haven for terrorists and a threat for international security,” the briefing note said, urging the Taliban “to rescind their links with terrorist groups.”

The leaders “discussed the critical need to maintain a laser-focus on our enduring counterterrorism efforts, including against threats from ISIS-K”, a White House statement added, referring to Islamic State-Khorasan.

Turkey’s Erdogan told G20 leaders in an address broadcast on national television that the Taliban “has not yet delivered what’s expected.

“We have not seen necessary inclusiveness from them on the issue of humanitarian assistance, security and prevention of Afghanistan being a base of terror organizations and prevention of extremism.”

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan will provide a total of $200 million this year, including $65 million through international organizations, and stressed the importance of maintaining economic activity and basic services, according to the Foreign Ministry.

“Protecting the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women’s right to receive education and work, is crucial for the future development of Afghanistan,” the ministry quoted Kishida as saying during the meeting.

The summit was also attended by U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who has said Afghanistan is at a “make-or-break” moment, as well as the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

“Without food, without jobs, without their rights protected, we will see more and more Afghans fleeing their homes in search of a better life,” Guterres said Monday.

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