By Ayesha Tanzeem
Pakistan hosted China, Russia, and the United States Thursday for talks on Afghanistan, bringing them to Islamabad at the same time as a Taliban delegation led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, who arrived Wednesday night.
“We are confident that Troika Plus’s engagement with the new Afghan government will help consolidate peace and stability, promote sustainable economic development, and constrict space for terrorist outfits operating from and within Afghanistan,” Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said in opening remarks.
Talking to media later, he promised to involve the Taliban officially in future regional meetings.
“God willing, we will invite them in the next meeting in Beijing so that their concerns should be shared with the world, and they should know what the world community expects from them in return,” Qureshi told journalists in the capital, Islamabad.
In a joint statement after the meeting, the four countries of the Troika Plus format pressed the Taliban to provide access to education for women and girls of all ages. The Taliban have suspended secondary school education for girls in most provinces since their August 15 takeover of the country.
The statement also called upon the Taliban to “ensure unhindered humanitarian access, including by women aid workers, for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan to respond to the developing crisis.”
In many Afghan provinces, local Taliban commanders are demanding that female aid workers are always accompanied by a close male relative, making their jobs difficult or in some cases impossible.
At the same time, the special representatives for Afghanistan from the four countries that participated in the meeting agreed on the need for urgent humanitarian assistance and urged the United Nations to take the lead in coordinating help for the Afghan population.
International aid agencies have sounded the alarm on Afghanistan’s situation, calling it one of the worst humanitarian crises.
“Now we have over 22 million people marching toward starvation,” said the World Food Program’s executive director, David Beasley, in a video message he tweeted from Kabul airport Thursday.
The situation is made more difficult because the United States has frozen nearly $10 billion in Afghan government assets in U.S. banks until the Taliban fulfill their commitments to the international community.
The Troika Plus, or extended Troika, format was created by Russia and included Iran and the four countries meeting Thursday in Islamabad. However, Iran has been reluctant to attend meetings that put their officials face to face with U.S. officials.
In a telephone briefing Monday in Brussels, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West underlined the importance of working with the region, including Iran, “on our common and abiding interest in a stable Afghanistan,” he said.
He also emphasized that the Taliban needed to deliver on their promises on human rights and women’s rights.
“Statements are not enough,” he said.
According to West, the formation of an inclusive and representative government was “a point I think is especially shared by many regional powers as well.”
Thursday’s meeting is the fourth on Afghanistan by its neighbors since the Taliban takeover. The three others were held in Moscow, Tehran, and New Delhi. China and Pakistan stayed away from the New Delhi meeting Wednesday, with China citing scheduling issues and Pakistan’s national security adviser calling India a “spoiler” in Afghanistan.
In October, senior U.S. officials, including West, engaged with the Taliban directly in Qatar’s capital, Doha, and more engagement is expected.
“We are preparing for a next round of interagency U.S. engagement with the Taliban,” West said, without giving dates.