Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers won backing from 10 regional powers at talks in Moscow on Wednesday for the idea of a United Nations donor conference to help the country stave off economic collapse and a humanitarian catastrophe.
Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Iran and five formerly Soviet Central Asian states joined the Taliban in calling for the U.N. 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 Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and whose abrupt withdrawal paved the way for the Islamist 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.
“Nobody is interested in the complete paralysis of an entire state, which borders, among other things, the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States),” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
The Taliban’s resurgence has stirred international fears of a return to their hardline form of Islamist 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 say 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.”
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’s initiative in hosting the talks is part of an effort to boost its influence in the region after the U.S. pullout. Its main fear is the risk of instability in Central Asia, and possible migrant flows and Islamist militant activity directed from Afghanistan.
The concerns have intensified after a series of attacks by the Afghan affiliate of Islamic State – dubbed Islamic State in Khorasan Province after an ancient name for the region – on mosques and other targets that have killed hundreds of people.
Russia fought its own disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and has close military and political ties with former Soviet Central Asian republics that border Afghanistan.
As well as saying no militant groups will be able to operate from Afghanistan, the Taliban have said they will safeguard the rights of women and minorities. But many women and girls have been prevented from going to work or school, and the interim cabinet includes only men.