Leaders from the G20 group of nations on Tuesday vowed to step up efforts to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan — but made clear they will not recognize the Taliban.
The extraordinary summit, held over videoconference and chaired by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, was attended by U.S President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, although key regional players China and Russia were represented by lower-ranking officials: Foreign Minister Wang Yi for China and Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov for Russia.
There have been divisions among the world’s biggest powers over the best way to handle the aftermath of the Taliban’s return to power in August, a move that pushed the country’s economy close to collapse, raising the specter of an exodus of asylum seekers and fears that Afghanistan will be a haven for terrorists.
In a sign that Russia is now moving to capitalize on the West’s failures and reassert influence, the Kremlin has organized regional talks to be held October 20 in Moscow. Unlike the G20 meeting, which excluded the Taliban, Russia has invited Afghanistan’s new rulers to participate in the talks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reportedly also asked for Iran and Pakistan to be invited to the G20 meeting. That didn’t happen.
Beijing has called for the Taliban to be given access to billions of dollars in frozen foreign exchange reserves and called on the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to normalize lending to Afghanistan, in a move seen as deepening divisions with the West.
According to some diplomats, Washington wasn’t happy about talks that could have revealed China’s bigger role in Central Asia since the U.S. troop withdrawal. So the fact that Beijing wasn’t represented at the highest level “could actually have been good news,” joked one European diplomat.
Draghi, speaking to journalists after the meeting, downplayed the absence of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, saying there weren’t “specific reasons” for them not showing up and that they had been fully involved ahead of the meeting.
At the end of the summit, which was also attended by the IMF’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and the World Bank’s President David Robert Malpass, the G20 presidency distributed a summary of the discussion.
It lists “shared goals and principles” and “lines of actions” on humanitarian aid, the fight against terrorism and people’s mobility. According to an Italian official, the text had been discussed for days and there was consensus approval. In the statement, the G20 countries warned that “the collapse of the economic and financial system in Afghanistan would impact heavily on the lives of Afghans and on the stability of the country, the region and beyond.” And, among other things, it also said that “the functioning of the payment system and the overall financial stability should also be addressed.”
During the summit, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an extra €700 million in emergency aid to Afghanistan and neighboring countries, bringing the total to €1 billion. This funding will be channeled to international organizations on the ground, while EU development aid, which would be channeled through the government, remains frozen.
Draghi stressed the mandate given to the U.N to handle the funds, to avoid giving them directly to the Taliban regime.
And speaking to journalists he argued that “it’s very hard to help the Afghan people … without some sort of involvement of the Taliban government.” But he stressed that this “doesn’t imply at all recognition.”