Qatar has served as a diplomatic bridge between the Taliban and the West since the events of 2021.
The United States has expressed it is open for technical dialogue regarding the stabilisation of Afghanistan’s economic issues with the Taliban, the State Department said in a statement following talks in Doha.
Washington’s remarks came after a rare face-to-face, two-day meeting in Qatar between US and Taliban representatives.
The meetings touched on Afghanistan’s deteriorating humanitarian and economic situation in addition to the Taliban’s restrictive policies on women and girls.
“US officials took note of recent data indicating declining inflation, growth of merchandise exports and imports in Afghanistan in 2023, and voiced openness to a technical dialogue regarding economic stabilisation issues soon,” the State Department said.
The American delegation also expressed its “deep concern regarding the humanitarian crisis and the need to continue to support aid organisations and UN bodies delivering assistance”.
The US envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West and Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri represented Washington at the talks. The Chief of the US mission to Afghanistan, who is based in Doha, was also in attendance.
The Afghan administration’s delegation included its acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and representatives of the Afghan Central Bank.
Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the discussions included “confidence-building measures”.
The Taliban officials also renewed their calls on the US to release some $7 billion of frozen Afghan Central Bank funds and lift sanctions imposed on members of the country’s administration.
During the meeting, the Afghan delegation urged Washington to avoid hindering Afghanistan’s economic development.
“The obstacles should not be created ahead of Afghanistan’s development. The sanctions on the banks should be removed and the Afghans should be allowed to take actions which improve the country. There was discussion with the Qatari side as well,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told TOLOnews on Monday.
Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation has worsened in recent decades due to drought and year of devastating war, forcing half of the population of 23 million people to rely on aid from the World Food Programme.
The economic situation exacerbated in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in 2021, during which several western nations were hesitant to provide the country with much-needed aid.
The US exited Afghanistan in 2021 following a deadly two-decade invasion of the country. During the height of events in Kabul, Qatar assumed a pivotal global role by evacuating more than 100,000 Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan in what has been described as history’s largest airlift of people.
Qatar has since served as a diplomatic bridge between the Taliban and the West.
The Taliban’s restrictive policies on women and girls as well as its ongoing crackdown on the media, were among a range of issues of concerns raised by the US during the meeting.
The US envoys called on the Taliban to “reverse policies responsible for the deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, particularly for women, girls, and vulnerable communities.”
Since the group’s return to power in 2021, the Taliban has enforced major restrictions, especially for women and girls pursuing education and joining the workforce – backtracking on their initial promises of a more open rule.
More recently, the Taliban imposed a new ban on women’s beauty salons.
The US imposed additional sanctions on the Taliban last year in response to the Afghan administration’s restrictive policies targeting women. Meanwhile Qatar, among other Muslim countries, has repeatedly expressed concern over the Taliban’s decisions.
In January, Qatar’s foreign minister said Doha was in contact with the interim government to understand the rationale behind the restrictive policies towards women and girls. He also vowed to stand with and support the women in Afghanistan.
“It’s just more and more provoking and making the situation much worse for them and for the Afghan people, we’ve been trying to reach out recently after these decisions take place. We’ve been trying also through other means jointly with other Muslim countries to talk to them and to go together,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, said at the time.
The two sides also tapped into the Afghan administration’s efforts in fulfilling its security commitments, including its anti-terrorism efforts.
“US officials took note of the Taliban’s continuing commitment to not allow the territory of Afghanistan to be used by anyone to threaten the United States and its allies[…]the American delegation acknowledged that there has been a decrease in large-scale terrorist attacks against Afghan civilians,” Washington said.
The positive statement comes following years of simmering tensions between Washington and the Taliban that heightened after the US killing of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in a strike in Kabul following the takeover.
The Taliban has repeatedly said its administration had no knowledge of his presence in the country, though the US has accused the Afghan rulers of violating the 2020 Doha Agreement.
Meanwhile, the US pressed the Taliban to release its detained citizens, describing the matter as “a significant obstacle” to its engagement with the Afghan administration.
“US officials pressed for the immediate and unconditional release of detained US citizens, noting that these detentions were a significant obstacle to positive engagement,” the State Department said.
Last year, Qatar assisted in the release of US aid worker Safi Rauf and his brother, Anees Khalil, a British citizen, following months in the Taliban’s custody.