Russia hosted the Taliban for talks in Moscow on Wednesday in an effort to boost its influence across Central Asia. Moscow officials also called for action against "Islamic State" (IS) fighters, who Russia says have started to increase their presence in Afghanistan since the Taliban's takeover.
Officials from 10 different countries, including China and Pakistan, attended the talks. They are the Taliban's most significant international meeting since seizing power over Afghanistan in mid-August.
At the talks, the Taliban's Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Salam Hanafi said that the extremist group did not pose any security threat to any other country and asked the international community to recognize its government, which no nation has done so far.
Fears of IS expansion
Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that IS fighters were gathering in Afghanistan to spread into former Soviet republics and eventually Russia.
Putin cautioned last week that around 2,000 fighters loyal to the "Islamic State" had gathered in northern Afghanistan, adding that their leaders planned to send them into neighboring Central Asian countries disguised as refugees.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov opened the meeting. "We are satisfied with the level of practical interaction with Afghan authorities," he said, touting Russia's ability to maintain its operations in Afghanistan.
Lavrov also emphasized the importance of respecting human rights and pursuing well-balanced social policies, adding that he discussed those issues with the Taliban before the talks.
He added that Russia would soon dispatch a shipment of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and urged the international community to quickly mobilize resources to prevent a humanitarian crisis.
Unlike many other countries, Russia has not evacuated its embassy in Kabul, and its ambassador has maintained regular contacts with the Taliban since the group took over.
Taliban leader praises talks
The Taliban delegation is headed by Deputy PM Hanafi, a senior figure in the new Afghan leadership who was part of talks with the European Union and the United States last week. Hanafi said "the meeting is very important for the stability of the region."
Before Wednesday's discussions, Russia, China and Pakistan said they were willing to provide aid to Afghanistan. The European Union has so far pledged €1 billion ($1.2 billion) to avert a humanitarian crisis in the region.
DW correspondent Nick Connolly visited Afghanistan to speak with shop owners and residents about the current state of the economy. One shop owner told DW, "I've never seen the economy as bad as it is now. The Taliban don't have anything to eat themselves. If they're going hungry, how are they going to feed the country?"
Some residents also urged the international community to officially recognize the Taliban government in order to boost the flow of goods and cash within the country.
Moscow won't recognize Taliban
Meanwhile, Moscow said it was not yet ready to recognize the Taliban government,despite its request that countries begin to do so.
"Official recognition is not on the table right now," said DW correspondent Aaron Tilton. "The Taliban is still officially considered a terror organization by Moscow, and that is not something that's likely to change in the near future."
"They say they [the Taliban] have broken their promise on forming an inclusive government," Tilton added.
"Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now," Lavrov told reporters. "Like most other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfill the promises they made when they came to power."
Russia has reached out to the Taliban and hosted its representatives in Moscow several times over recent years, although the group is a designated terrorist organization in Russia.
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Taliban had to create an inclusive government that represents all of Afghan society if they wanted international recogition.
At the end of discussions on Wednesday, a statement was issued saying: "Participating countries call on the current Afghan leadership to take further steps to improve governance and to form a truly inclusive government that adequately reflects the interests of all major ethno-political forces in the country."
The statement also stressed the need for the Afghan leadership to "respect the rights of ethnic groups, women and children.''
lc,es/sms (Reuters, AFP)
DW Brussels correspondent Iuri Sheiko contributed to this report