G20 leaders agree to step up Afghan humanitarian effort

Alice Ritchie, Alvise Armellini - Agence France-Presse
G20 leaders agree to step up Afghan humanitarian effort
A handout picture made available on October 12, 2021 by the Press Office of Palazzo Chigi shows a television screen where appear international leaders as they take part in a virtual G20 leaders summit focused on Afghanistan on October 12, 2021. G20 leaders holding a virtual summit on Afghanistan on October 12, 2021 are "laser-focused" on keeping the Taliban-ruled country from becoming a militant haven and on providing humanitarian aid, says a US readout on the meeting.
AFP / Filippo Attili

ROME, Italy — G20 leaders agreed Tuesday to work together to avoid a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, as the EU pledged a one-billion-euro aid package and host Italy stressed the need to maintain contacts with the Taliban. 

As the Islamist group held its first face-to-face talks with a US-EU delegation in Qatar, US 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 European Union opened the talks by pledging one billion euros ($1.2-billion), including money for urgent humanitarian needs and Afghanistan's neighbours who were taking in Afghans fleeing the Taliban.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had been pushing for the Group of 20 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.

'Not yet delivered'

International aid has been blocked to Afghanistan since the Taliban returned to power following the withdrawal of US 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 which has also hosted talks between the US and the Taliban, were also invited to Tuesday's closed door talks.

The EU emphasised its money would go to international organisations working on the ground rather than the Taliban's interim government, which no other government has yet recognised.

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."

Safe haven for terrorists

According to a briefing note published by Draghi's office, the G20 leaders emphsised 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-Khorasan (IS-K), who have 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.

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 organisations and prevention of extremism."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: October 20, 2021 - 6:00pm

Get the latest news as Taliban gains control of Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Al Jazeera/AFP

October 20, 2021 - 6:00pm

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recognizes Taliban "efforts" to try and stabilize the situation in volatile Afghanistan as Moscow hosted the Islamist regime for international talks. 

"A new administration is in power now," Lavrov tells the gathering. "We note their efforts to stabilize the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus." — AFP

October 19, 2021 - 9:05am

Zalmay Khalilzad, the veteran US envoy whose months of diplomacy failed to prevent the Taliban from taking power in Afghanistan, resigned on Monday.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Khalilzad's departure, saying that the envoy's deputy, Thomas West, would take over. — AFP

October 14, 2021 - 7:50am

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Wednesday that battle-hardened militants from Iraq and Syria are "actively" entering Afghanistan.

"The situation in Afghanistan is not easy," Putin says during a video conference with security service chiefs of ex-Soviet states. 

"Militants from Iraq, Syria with experience in military operations are actively being drawn there," he says. — AFP

October 12, 2021 - 9:19pm

The Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint US-EU delegation Tuesday in Qatar as Brussels pledged one billion euros ($1.2 billion) in aid for Afghanistan.

The hardline Islamists are seeking recognition, as well as assistance to avoid a humanitarian disaster, after they returned to power in August following the withdrawal of US troops after 20 years of war.

UN chief Antonio Guterres earlier urged the world to donate to drought-hit and impoverished Afghanistan to head off economic collapse, but also slammed the Taliban's "broken" promises to Afghan women and girls.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the EU aid package, meant "to avert a major humanitarian and socio-economic collapse", at a virtual G20 summit hosted by Italy on Tuesday. — AFP

October 12, 2021 - 8:12am

A flight carrying 84 Afghans — people who worked for the Spanish forces and their families — arrived in Madrid on Monday, after being evacuated via Pakistan.

The military plane landed at the Torrejon de Ardoz airbase near Madrid at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT) on schedule, a government statement said.

The defence, foreign and migration ministers were at the airport to meet them.

The 84 passengers comprised 14 people who had worked for the Spanish force in Afghanistan and their families, TVE television reported. — AFP

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