Fri, 28 Jan 2022

ISLAMABAD - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and the United States wrapped up two days of meetings in Qatar on Tuesday, with the Islamist group saying its delegates urged U.S. officials to unfreeze Afghan state assets and remove sanctions.

The discussions took place amid growing appeals by aid groups to international donors to scale up financial aid to Afghanistan, where the United Nations says more than half the population is suffering from acute hunger this winter.

U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led their respective delegations at the talks in Doha, the Qatari capital.

Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the two sides discussed and exchanged views on political, economic, health, education, security and humanitarian issues.

'The Afghan side assured them about security, urged immediate unconditional unfreezing of Afghan reserves, ending of sanctions & blacklists, & disconnecting humanitarian issues from political considerations,' Balkhi tweeted. 'Overall the sessions were positive and both sides agreed to continue such meetings moving forward.'

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. side on the outcome of the talks.

Washington had said in the run-up to the Doha meeting that the focus of the talks would be counterterrorism, safe passage for U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans, humanitarian assistance and the economic situation of the country.

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan from the Western-backed former government in August as U.S.-led foreign troops withdrew from the country after 20 years. It prompted Washington and allied countries to suspend financial assistance, freeze some $9.5 billon in Afghan central bank assets and impose stringent sanctions on the Taliban.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund also halted financial aid programs for Kabul.

The abrupt disruption of foreign development support has plunged the Afghan economy into free-fall, with the financial sector choked government employees remain unpaid, including those in health and education sectors, and trade activities almost halted.

The Taliban have warned the deepening economic crisis could prompt a mass exodus and refugee problems for the world if economic sanctions are not lifted and Afghan assets remain frozen.

The international community has not recognized the Taliban interim government, citing a lack of inclusivity and human rights as well as terrorism concerns.

The Islamist group insists its administration has brought peace and security to most of Afghanistan in a short period of time and it is determined to work with the international community to move the poverty-stricken country toward economic stability.

But critics are skeptical about those assurances, citing reports of revenge killings of former officials by Taliban forces and restrictions imposed on female participation in Afghan television programs.

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