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Taliban demand unfreezing of Afghan assets in talks with US

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Head of the Taliban delegation Abdul Salam Hanafi and other members of the delegation take part in international talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia, on October 20, 2021. (Photo by Reuters)

Representatives from the Taliban interim government and the United States have concluded a second round of talks in the Qatari capital, Doha.

The two-day dialog, which took place amid growing calls for immediate foreign assistance to Afghanistan, ended on Tuesday, with the Taliban urging US officials to unfreeze Afghan state assets and remove sanctions and Washington pledging to continue to support the United Nations' efforts to address the situation.

US special representative for Afghanistan Thomas West and the Taliban's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi led their respective delegations at the talks. A first session between the two sides had been held in Doha in October.

In a post on Twitter, Taliban Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi described the discussions as "positive," saying the two sides 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 and blacklists, and disconnecting humanitarian issues from political considerations," Balkhi said. "Overall the sessions were positive and both sides agreed to continue such meetings moving forward."

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington "remains committed to ensuring that US sanctions do not limit the ability of Afghan civilians to receive humanitarian support from the US government and international community while denying assets to sanctioned entities and individuals."

He said the US Treasury Department "has issued general licenses to support the continued flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support basic human needs."

Price said the US delegation had emphasized the importance of the Taliban fulfilling their public commitment not to allow anyone to pose a threat to any country from Afghan soil, as well as safe passage for US citizens and at-risk Afghans.

The US officials also urged the Taliban to protect the rights of all Afghans, implement a commitment to provide countrywide access to education at all levels for women and girls, and take additional steps to form an inclusive and representative government, according to the US State Department.

The Taliban, who had previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, took power again on August 15 as the US was in the middle of a chaotic troop withdrawal. The group announced the formation of a caretaker government on September 7. No country has yet recognized their rule. Since then, the Taliban have been struggling to contain a deepening economic crisis.

Most of the international forums stopped their aid and assistance to Afghanistan after the Taliban returned to power. Besides, the United States also seized nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank. The Taliban have repeatedly called for the release of the assets, but Washington has rebuffed the call, saying the new government in Kabul must "earn" international legitimacy first.

War-ravaged Afghanistan also needs urgent international action to support millions of people struggling with rising hunger and the collapse of services. The Taliban's efforts to stabilize the situation have been undermined by international sanctions, as banks are running out of cash and civil servants are going unpaid.

The new Afghan rulers have warned Western diplomats that insisting on sanctions as a means to pressure their governance could undermine security and trigger a wave of economic refugees.

The United Nations says Afghanistan is facing "one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters."

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