Taliban meet UK, Iran amid economic woes

·2-min read

Afghanistan's Taliban leaders have met UK officials for the first time since taking power, a move the group hopes will pave the way for the country to refill cash-starved coffers as it teeters on the brink of economic collapse.

The Taliban's meeting with British diplomats in the capital Kabul came a day after they met with an Iranian delegation - another first since assuming the helm - to discuss trade relations, a key driver of Afghanistan's economy.

The Taliban met with Sir Simon Gass, the British prime minister's high representative for Afghan transition, and Martin Longden, the charge d'affaires of the UK mission to Afghanistan in Doha.

The meeting marked Britain's first diplomatic visit to the country since the Taliban seized Kabul on August 15, and took control of Afghanistan following the exit of Allied Forces.

After the meeting, Longden tweeted that "substantial discussions" were held with the Taliban leadership covering a wide range of topics, including the humanitarian crisis, terrorism, the importance for safe passage for UK and Afghan nationals, and the rights of women and girls.

He fell short of recognising their government officially, a Taliban wish, and described the meeting as a "test".

"It's early days and unsurprisingly, there are points of difference between us. But such difficult challenges lie ahead for Afghanistan (and beyond)," he tweeted.

"It's right to test if we can engage pragmatically and find common ground - in the interests of both the UK and Afghan peoples."

In a statement, the Taliban said it was committed to good relations with all countries.

"In return, we want the international community to return the cash capital of the Afghan nation to our nation," it said, referring to billions of dollars in Afghan assets frozen in US accounts.

The Taliban also met on Monday with a delegation from neighbouring Iran to regulate trade between the countries, Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said.

They agreed to increase trading hours at the Islam Qala border crossing from eight hours per day to 24 and to better regulate the collection of tariffs and improve roadworks.

Customs are a key source of domestic revenue for Afghanistan.

Afghanistan, an aid-dependent country, is grappling with a liquidity crisis as assets remain frozen in the US and disbursements from international organisations that once accounted for 75 per cent of state spending have been paused.

The UN continues to sound the alarm about the country's dire economic situation, saying a humanitarian crisis is imminent.

The world body's children's agency warned half of Afghanistan's children under five are expected to suffer from severe malnutrition as hunger takes root amid serious food shortages.

"There are millions of people who are going to starve and there is winter coming, COVID raging, and the whole social system collapsed," said Omar Adbi, UNICEF's deputy executive director for programs, during a visit to a Kabul children's hospital.

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