Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers won backing from 10 regional powers at talks in Moscow for the idea of a United Nations donor conference to help the country stave off economic collapse and a humanitarian catastrophe.
On Wednesday, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran and formerly Soviet Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan joined the Taliban in calling for the UN to convene such a conference as soon as possible to help rebuild the country.
They said it should take place “with the understanding, of course, that the main burden … should be borne by the forces whose military contingents have been present in this country over the past 20 years”.
That was a pointed reference to the United States and its allies, who invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 attacks and whose abrupt withdrawal paved the way for the Taliban to seize back control of the country in August.
Washington chose not to attend the talks, citing technical reasons, but has said it may join future rounds.
Russia has led the calls for international aid, conscious that any spillover of conflict from Afghanistan could threaten regional stability.
The Taliban’s resurgence has stirred international fears of a return to their hardline rule in the 1990s, when they hosted Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda movement and carried out egregious human rights violations, including public stonings and the marginalisation of women at work and in schools.
Since returning to power, the Taliban have said they have moved as quickly as possible on opening up their government and guaranteeing rights to women, and that they do not represent a threat to any other country.
“Afghanistan will never allow its soil to be used as a base for anyone to threaten the security of another country,” Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said.
Abdul Salam Hanafi, the deputy prime minister who led the delegation, said: “Isolating Afghanistan is in no one’s interests.”
He said the meeting was “very important for the stability of the entire region”.
While governments around the world, including Russia, have declined to give official recognition to the Taliban government, the communique recognised the “new reality” of their ascent to power.
Russia calls for inclusive Afghan gov’t
Earlier on Wednesday, Russia called on the Taliban to form a government that includes all ethnic groups and political forces in Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the conference that the Kremlin recognises the Taliban’s “efforts” to try and stabilise the situation in Afghanistan since taking power in mid-August.
“A new administration is in power now,” Lavrov told the gathering. “We note their efforts to stabilise the military and political situation and set up work of the state apparatus.”
But he urged the group to now assemble an administration “reflecting the interests of not only all ethnic groups but all political forces” in Afghanistan in order to achieve a stable peace in the country.
The talks mark one of the Taliban’s most significant international meetings since it assumed control of Afghanistan and underline Moscow’s clout.
Lavrov said Moscow regretted the absence of the United States at the conference.
No recognition ‘for now’
The talks come after Moscow said on Tuesday that Russia, China and Pakistan are willing to provide aid to Afghanistan, which is now facing a looming humanitarian and economic crisis.
Lavrov said that Russia would soon send humanitarian aid and demanded the international community mobilise resources to prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Adopting a cautious approach, Moscow has also made clear it is not yet ready to recognise the Taliban government.
Lavrov said the Kremlin was withholding recognition from the Taliban while waiting for the group to fulfil promises made when it took power, including on the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government.
Critics have said the Taliban, which remains banned as a “terrorist” organisation in Russia, is backtracking on pledges to protect the rights of women and minorities. Observers said the group is also persecuting its foes, having publicly ruled this out.
“Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now,” Lavrov told reporters. “Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfil the promises they made when they came to power.”
Russia, which fought its own disastrous war in the country from 1979 to 1989, is trying to lead diplomatic efforts to avoid instability in the wider region that could damage its interests.
Putin has warned of the possibility of “Islamist extremists” infiltrating the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which Moscow views as a defensive buffer.
The concerns have intensified after a series of attacks by the Afghan affiliate of ISIL (ISIS) – dubbed Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K) after an ancient name for the region – on mosques and other targets that have killed hundreds of people.
Unlike many other countries, Russia has not evacuated its embassy in Kabul and its ambassador has maintained regular contact with the Taliban in recent months.