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G20 to aid Afghans — without supporting Taliban

Priyanka Shankar
October 12, 2021

Leaders and representatives from G20 nations have stressed the importance of supporting Afghanistan — without recognizing the Taliban.

Armed members of the Taliban stand behind sandbags in Kunduz
After taking power, the Taliban inherited Afghanistan's problems with little global supportImage: Ajmal Kakar/XinHua/dpa/picture alliance

At a virtual conference to discuss the deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan on Tuesday, G20 nations highlighted the importance of urgently channeling humanitarian aid to Afghans through independent international organizations without formally recognizing the Taliban government. 

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of the G20, said: "All G20 leaders should have contact with the Taliban, but that does not mean recognizing them as the government of Afghanistan."

At a press conference after the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the importance of giving all UN organizations in Afghanistan the necessary resources to provide humanitarian aid. Merkel said Germany would provide €600 million ($690 million), and also acknowledged the importance of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in reviving Afghanistan’s economy.

"We have nothing to gain if the entire monetary or financial system collapses in Afghanistan," she said.

Ahead of the G20 meeting, the European Union announced a support package of €1 billion for Afghanistan and neighboring countries to avoid widespread famine and further humanitarian crisis.

The package includes the previously pledged €300 million for humanitarian purposes. The European Commission announced that it is working on directly channeling funds to Afghans through international organizations on the ground.

G20 leaders agreed that funding targets in humanitarian assistance should also focus on programs in favor of women and girls in Afghanistan.

Though Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not take part in the summit, US President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the European Union's G20 leaders participated.

Representatives from Qatar, which has played a crucial role in facilitating peace talks for Afghanistan, were present, as were officials from the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Afghan health care workers face scarce supplies

'Really desperate' conditions

Four decades of conflict and severe drought had already worsened Afghanistan’s humanitarian situation.

Since the Taliban returned to power in August, Afghans have grappled with a parlous state of food insecurity and a looming banking crisis that has paralyzed businesses.

Fabrizio Cesaretti, the deputy representative of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Afghanistan, told DW that the country is facing its worst drought in many years, resulting in poor harvests, which have hit household incomes.

"The situation is really desperate," he said. "The long conflict and drought that hit the country are making it hard for people to sustain their livelihoods and even produce crops like wheat — a staple that would play an integral role in sustaining many families through the harsh winter. Borders with countries like Pakistan are also closed, making it hard for farmers to export their products and earn their livelihood."

Cesaretti called on G20 economies to urgently support Afghanistan's agriculture sector through funding programs. "We have been traveling within provinces by truck and supplying seeds, animal feed and fertilizers to ensure farmers can cultivate their land and herders can feed their livestock," he said.

"The country is not in a state of famine as yet, but more international support would prevent further starvation and malnutrition."

On the eve of the G20 gathering, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres proposed injecting cash into the country through UN trust funds.

"We need to find ways to make the economy breathe again," Guterres told reporters at UN headquarters in New York. "This can be done without violating international laws or compromising principles."

Combating terrorism

Responding to ongoing terror threats in Afghanistan also remained high on the agenda, as well. The Taliban has faced attacks by the Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K).

According to a White House statement, "leaders discussed the critical need to maintain a laser-focus on enduring counterterrorism efforts, including against threats from ISIS-K."

The G20 discussions to fight terror threats come after both EU and US representatives held informal talks with the Taliban in Doha on the matter. But the Taliban has ruled out cooperating with the US and other countries to fight terrorism.

Preparing for refugees

Figuring out how to deal with a new wave of migrants remained a concern for Erdogan. He said Turkey, which already hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, could not bear an influx of displaced people from Afghanistan and warned EU leaders to equip themselves for more migration.

To relieve pressure on Afghanistan's neighbors, the G20 is exploring options of safe and legal pathways for Afghan refugees in cooperation with the UNHCR.

Jeff Crisp, a research associate at the Refugees Studies Centre at the University of Oxford and an associate fellow at Chatham House, told DW that the international approach to refugees that has developed over the years is based on the idea that states should not be penalized because of their geographical location.

"In relation to the Afghans, Pakistan and Iran would argue very strongly that they have actually borne the whole burden of the refugee exodus since 1979," Crisp said. "And so, while they would welcome any support they would get from Europe and other donor states, they are certainly not prepared to simply become a dumping ground for even more refugees."