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Taliban closer to international recognition, says Amir Muttaqi

The talks in Norway last month were the first involving the Taliban held on Western soil in decades

February 03, 2022
In this picture taken on February 2, 2022, Afghanistans Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi speaks during an interview at his office in the foreign ministry in Kabul. -AFP
In this picture taken on February 2, 2022, Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi speaks during an interview at his office in the foreign ministry in Kabul. -AFP    

KABUL: The Taliban are inching closer towards international recognition but any concessions Afghanistan’s new rulers make will be on their terms, the regime’s foreign minister said in an interview.

In his first interview since returning from talks with Western powers in Oslo, Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi also urged Washington to unlock Afghanistan’s assets to help ease a humanitarian crisis.

No country has formally recognised the government installed after the Taliban seized power in August as US-led forces withdrew following a 20-year occupation.

But Muttaqi told AFP late Wednesday that Afghanistan’s new rulers were slowly gaining international acceptance.

"On the process of getting recognition... we have come closer to that goal," he said.

"That is our right, the right of the Afghans. We will continue our political struggle and efforts until we get our right."

The talks in Norway last month were the first involving the Taliban held on Western soil in decades.

While Norway insisted the meeting was not intended to give the new rulers formal recognition, the Taliban have touted it as such.

Muttaqi said his government was actively engaged with the international community -- a clear indication, he insisted, of growing acceptance.

"The international community wants to have interaction with us," he said. "We have had good achievements in that."

Under pressure

Muttaqi said several countries were operating embassies in Kabul, with more expected to open soon.

"We expect that the embassies of some of the European and Arab countries will open too," he said.

But Muttaqi said any concessions the Taliban made in areas such as human rights would be on their terms and not as a result of international pressure.

"What we are doing in our country is not because we have to meet conditions, nor are we doing it under someone’s pressure," he said.

"We are doing it as per our plan and policy."

The Taliban have promised a softer version of the rule that characterised their first stint in power from 1996 until 2001.

But the new regime has been swift to bar women from most government jobs and close the majority of girls’ secondary schools.

Still, despite clear evidence to the contrary, Muttaqi insisted the new regime had not sacked any employees of the previous US-backed government.

"None of the 500,000 employees of the previous regime, men or women, have been fired. They all are getting paid," he said.

But on the streets of Kabul and elsewhere in the country, thousands of people say they have lost their jobs or that they have not been paid for months.

Conditional aid

Long dependent on international aid, Afghanistan’s economic crisis has been made worse by Washington freezing nearly $10 billion in state assets held abroad.

With poverty deepening and a drought devastating farming in many areas, the United Nations has warned that half of the country’s 38 million population faces food shortages this winter.

Washington and much of the global community insist any financial aid is conditional on the Taliban improving their rights record -- especially regarding women.

The Taliban government has forcefully dispersed women’s protests, detained critics and beaten Afghan journalists reporting on anti-regime rallies -- something Muttaqi also denied.

"Until now we have not arrested anyone who is against the ideology of this system or this government, and we have not harmed anyone," he said.

Still, the United Nations and Amnesty International blamed the Taliban for detaining, then releasing, two Afghan journalists snatched from outside their office this week.