Taliban, US plan to meet in Qatar to discuss freeing frozen Afghanistan funds

The US blocked Afghan reserves after the Taliban took control of the country by force in 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - A top Taliban delegation led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi headed to Qatar on Wednesday (June 29) to hold the latest round of talks with US officials to release about US$9 billion (S$12 billion) of frozen Afghan funds as the nation reels from crises of poverty and hunger.

The discussion will centre around "creating a mechanism for releasing the frozen Afghan reserves", said Ahmad Wali Haqmal, a spokesman for Afghanistan's finance ministry. "We're expecting this would be a serious round of talks."

The delegation includes central bank Governor Mohammad Idris and Deputy Finance Minister Nazir Kabiri. They will meet with the US Special Envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West and officials from the treasury department, Haqmal said.

The meeting is the first since May 21 when the West urged Muttaqi to remove restrictions on girls' education. Girls are barred from education beyond the sixth grade under the Taliban regime.

The meeting is taking place soon after the Washington Post reported that the administration of US President Joe Biden is working with Taliban leadership on a mechanism to allow Afghanistan's government to use its central bank reserves, while curtailing the Taliban's access.

It also comes as the Taliban are holding their first grand gathering of 3,000 people, mostly Islamic scholars, in the capital Kabul on Thursday to discuss pressing issues including the ban on girls' education and how to engage with the world in the absence of international legitimacy.

The US blocked Afghan reserves after the Taliban took control of the country by force last year. The insurgents-turned-politicians are now struggling to fix an economy ravaged by international sanctions and global isolation, which resulted in the nation losing international aid that accounted for more than 40 per cent of its GDP. The UN recently said millions of people in Afghanistan are facing severe hunger.

The country was also hit last week by a powerful earthquake that killed about 1,000 people and wounded more than 1,500 others. Several countries including the US and China rushed aid to the earthquake-affected areas, with the US providing US$55 million in humanitarian assistance.

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