Turkey hosted leaders of Afghanistan’s Taliban government for the first time Thursday, repeating its advice to the Islamist group on the need to form an inclusive government in the war-torn South Asian nation and to ensure Afghan female participation in education as well as public life.

After Thursday’s meeting with the visitors, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a televised news conference in Ankara that the Taliban asked for humanitarian aid and the continuation of Turkish investment in Afghanistan.

Taliban acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi and his delegation arrived in Turkey for the talks following meetings in Qatar this week with envoys from the United States and European diplomats. In those discussions, Muttaqi warned that attempts to pressure his government through sanctions would undermine the security of not only Afghanistan but the world in general and spark an exodus of Afghan economic migrants.

“We have told the international community about the importance of engagement with the Taliban administration. In fact, recognition and engagement are two different things,” Cavusoglu said.

The Taliban have been seeking international legitimacy for their male-only Cabinet in Kabul since returning to power two months ago after waging an insurgency against the Western-backed Afghan government for 20 years. Several members of the Taliban Cabinet have been blacklisted by the United Nations.

FILE - Class 11 Afghan girl students attend a class at Zarghona high school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2015.

FILE – Class 11 Afghan girl students attend a class at Zarghona high school in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2015.

Cavusoglu said that in talks with the Taliban delegates, the Turkish side underscored the importance of Afghan girls’ education and women’s employment in business life.

While boys were allowed last month to return to secondary school, the hardline movement has not permitted girls at the same level to resume their education, insisting that it must put in place a “safe learning environment” before female students could return.

Taliban acting Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi wrote on his Twitter feed that the wide-ranging discussions with officials in Ankara covered bilateral diplomatic ties, humanitarian aid, Afghan refugees and resumption of Turkish commercial flights to Afghanistan.

Washington has frozen nearly $10 billion in Afghan assets — parked mainly in the U.S. Federal Reserve — since the Taliban took over the country. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have also halted financial assistance and lending programs for Kabul, citing human rights concerns under the Taliban rule.

The U.S. and other Western countries have been pressing the Taliban to keep their promises to form an inclusive Afghan government, protect human rights (especially those of women), fight terrorism and not restrict freedom of expression.

However, critics say freezing Afghan assets could trigger an economic meltdown that could worsen the growing humanitarian crisis facing the country.

Internally displaced Afghan children are seen next to their shelters on the outskirts of Kabul, Feb. 3, 2021.

Internally displaced Afghan children are seen next to their shelters on the outskirts of Kabul, Feb. 3, 2021.

The United Nations has warned that about 1 million Afghan children are at risk of starvation and more than 18 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance. A deepening drought and the approaching harsh winter are only going to make matters worse, the U.N. says.

U.N. officials told reporters in New York on Thursday that they are working to scale up assistance to reach Afghans in need.

The World Food Program last month reached 4 million people with food and nutrition assistance across all 34 Afghan provinces, three times the number it reached in August, said U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric

The head of WFP, David Beasley, stressed that if international aid did not flow as soon as possible, it would be catastrophic, and that this was a war on hunger.

Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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