ISLAMABAD — Uzbekistan hosted a conference Thursday of foreign ministers of regional countries, including Russia and China, to review the situation and cooperation with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
The meeting in the Uzbek city of Samarkand came as the United Nations reviews its presence in the strife-torn South Asian nation after the radical Taliban barred female staff from working for the world body, the latest in a series of curbs placed on Afghan women.
Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi attended Thursday's huddle with counterparts from Russia and six immediate neighbors of Afghanistan, including China, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
A post-meeting statement said that participants discussed "the implementation of the main demands of the world community by the current authorities of Afghanistan, such as the creation of an inclusive government, the opportunity for Afghan women to work and receive education and ensuring the rights of national minorities."
The delegates emphasized the need to develop a "joint action mechanism" to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans and restore the country's economy, said the statement published by the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its website.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, led their respective delegations at the conference.
Muttaqi, addressing the gathering, did not discuss restrictions his government has imposed on Afghan women's access to work and education but said the Taliban "are ready to fulfill our obligations as a responsible government."
He did not elaborate and reiterated that the Taliban are committed to not allowing any group or individual to use Afghan soil against any regional state or beyond.
Muttaqi insisted that since returning to power nearly 20 months ago, they have established peace and a "powerful central government" in Afghanistan and banned narcotics cultivation and trade, setting the stage for a "meaningful" and "mutually beneficial" cooperation with the region.
The foreign ministers of China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran held separate talks under what is known as the Quadrilateral Group on Afghanistan and discussed the need to cooperate with the Taliban authorities to maintain political stability and prevent a humanitarian crisis, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Beijing and Moscow have stepped up engagements with the Taliban since they seized control of Afghanistan in August 2021 as U.S.-led Western troops withdrew after 20 years of war.
On Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, responding to criticism of the Taliban's restrictions on women and lack of political inclusivity, told reporters that Beijing supports "the Afghan government in adopting moderate, prudent and inclusive policies."
Wang said his government had maintained contact with the Taliban government to help them and the Afghan people overcome reconstruction, economic-development and security-related challenges.
"China stands ready to step up coordination and cooperation with Afghanistan's neighbors and the rest of the world to help Afghanistan embark on a path of stability and development," he said.
Analysts say Beijing's growing engagement with Kabul stems from potentially vital economic opportunities and an effort to expand Beijing's regional influence. They see Afghanistan's largely unexplored mineral wealth and the presence of anti-China militants in the country as the main drivers behind the increased Chinese diplomatic outreach.
The impoverished nation, reeling from years of war and natural calamities, links West Asia, Central Asia and South Asia. China has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure and economic development projects in these countries under its global Belt and Road Initiative, hoping to make Afghanistan part of it.
"China welcomes Afghanistan's participation in Belt and Road cooperation and supports Afghanistan's integration into regional economic cooperation and connectivity that will transform Afghanistan from a 'land-locked country' to a 'land-linked country,'" the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its Afghan policy document released Wednesday.
China and Russia are among several regional and neighboring countries that have kept their embassies in Kabul after the Taliban takeover. But no foreign government has recognized the Taliban authorities, citing curbs on Afghan women and concerns stemming from other human rights abuses.
"We hope the Afghan interim government will protect the basic rights and interests of all Afghan people, including women, children and all ethnic groups, and continue working actively to meet Afghan people's interests and the international community's expectations," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
The Taliban have restricted women from accessing higher education, government jobs and public spaces. Female aid workers have been banned from working for national and international nongovernmental organizations. Girls are also not allowed to attend school beyond sixth grade.
The United Nations has condemned the "unlawful" ban on hundreds of its Afghan female staff, imposed a week ago, and warned it could push the global organization to stop operations in the country.
The Taliban on Wednesday defended their decision to forbid Afghan women from working for the U.N., saying it is an internal matter that all parties should respect.
Afghanistan is home to one of the world's largest humanitarian crises, where the United Nations says 28.3 million people, or two-thirds of the population, need humanitarian assistance, with 6 million people on the brink of famine. [VOA/NS]