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Afghan Taliban delegation in Turkey for high-level talks

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AP

The Taliban delegation led by Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting foreign minister, front, at Esenboga Airport, arrive in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. A high-level delegation of Afghanistan's new Taliban rulers has arrived in Turkey for talks with Turkish officials, the Foreign Ministry announced Thursday. The meetings in the capital of Ankara would be first between the Taliban and senior Turkish government officials after the group seized control of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

ANKARA – Turkey's foreign minister on Thursday met with a high-level delegation of Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, officials said, the first such talks since the Taliban takeover of the country in August as U.S. forces pulled out after two decades of war.

The meeting in Ankara between Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban-appointed foreign minister, comes after Taliban leaders held a series of talks with the United States, 10 European nations and European Union representatives in Qatar earlier this week.

The international community has condemned some Taliban actions since their blitz takeover as the U.S. and NATO troops pulled out and the U.S.-backed Afghan government crumbled. The Taliban have brought back public hangings and other brutal tactics. They have allowed girls to return to primary school but have barred them from going to high school in all but one Afghan province. Women have not been allowed to return to work.

The current, Taliban-appointed Afghan government, which the former insurgents say is only interim, is comprised solely of Taliban figures, including several blacklisted by the United Nations.

Cavusoglu, speaking after the meeting in the Turkish capital, said they discussed the flights from Kabul’s airport after the Taliban requested Ankara’s help on the matter. He also said Turkey had made suggestions concerning a more inclusive Afghan government as well as the education of girls under the Taliban.

“We have conveyed our expectations concerning security for the resumption of regular flights” from Kabul, Cavusoglu said. “Today we told them once again that they must be inclusive for the country’s unity and solidarity.”

“We shared some recommendations on the subject of educating women, children, girls and women joining the workforce," Cavusoglu said. “We said, don’t see this as a precondition from the West or as their demand. We recommended that they see this as an expectation from the Muslim world and other Muslim countries.”

The Turkish minister said he also discussed the Taliban's inability to access Afghanistan's foreign funds, saying Turkey believes that countries that have frozen Afghanistan's foreign accounts should show “more flexibility” to allow salaries to be paid.

Aid organizations warn the nation of nearly 40 million people faces total poverty and hunger as winter approaches.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a virtual meeting Thursday between the Group of 20 most powerful economies that the international community should keep the channels of dialogue with the Taliban open, to “patiently and gradually steer” them toward establishing a more inclusive government.

Erdogan said Turkey, already hosting more than 3.6 million Syrians, cannot bear an influx of migrants from Afghanistan, and warned that European nations would also be affected by a new wave of migrants.

Cavusoglu said that during the talks in Ankara, the Taliban officials said they would give the necessary support for Afghans wanting to return home. Talks also focused on what can be done to prevent an additional flow of migrants, he said.

The Taliban say they want international recognition. They warn that weakening their government will affect security and spark an even bigger exodus of migration from the country.

Separately, Turkey has been working with Qatar to re-open the airport in Kabul for international travel but repairs are needed before commercial flights can resume. There are currently two airline carriers, Islamabad-based Pakistan International Airlines and Afghanistan's privately-owned Kam Air, which operate chartered flights to and from Afghanistan but at high costs to account for the insurance.

On Thursday, PIA suspended its flights to Kabul, hours after the Taliban threatened to ban the airlines unless they reduce costs. Abdullah Hafeez, spokesman for Pakistan's national airline, said “the situation on the ground is not conducive for international flight operations,” without elaborating.

There were reports that some PIA staff were mistreated by Taliban officials after refusing to discount ticket prices. There were no immediate details or comment from either PIA or the Taliban.

Hafeez called the atmosphere in Kabul “charged," and blamed the exorbitant ticket prices on the cost of insurance PIA is required to buy to fly into Afghanistan. A one-way PIA ticket from Kabul to Islamabad costs around $1,500, up from $300 before the Taliban seized power in August, said Hafeez.

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Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report. This story has been corrected to show the family name of the Taliban-appointed minister is Muttaqi, not Mutaqi.