UN chief to host May meeting on Afghanistan in Qatar

Senior UN official says the meeting could include talks on ‘baby steps’ towards international recognition of the Taliban.

Afghan girls attend a religious school
The Taliban administration's desire for recognition is viewed as key international leverage to press for an inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan [File: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo]

The UN secretary-general is convening an international meeting on Afghanistan next month in Doha, Qatar, where special envoys from several countries will seek a “durable way forward” for the war-ravaged nation, according to his spokesperson.

Antonio Guterres will host the closed-door gathering with special envoys from various nations on May 1 and 2 to “clarify expectations” about issues including the Taliban authorities’ restrictions on women, Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Wednesday.

“The purpose of this kind of small group meeting is for us to reinvigorate the international engagement around the common objectives for a durable way forward on the situation in Afghanistan,” Dujarric said at UN headquarters.

Guterres “continues to believe that it’s an urgent priority to advance an approach based on pragmatism and principles, combined with strategic patience, and to identify parameters for creative, flexible, principled and constructive engagement”.

It was unclear whether Taliban leadership would be represented at the talks.

Dujarric’s announcement comes after UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed suggested on Monday the gathering “could find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition … of the Taliban, a principled recognition – in other words, there are conditions.”

Her remarks sparked a backlash from some countries and rights activists. The Taliban administration’s desire for recognition has been viewed as key international leverage to press for an inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.

“The intent and purpose of this meeting was never to discuss recognition of the Taliban and any discussion at the meeting about recognition would be unacceptable,” said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters.

Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia also told reporters the meeting was not intended to be about recognition, but rather “be looking for the opinions of those special envoys on how they see the way out for Afghanistan”.

A women rights activist told Al Jazeera she is disturbed by the news of a potential recognition of the Taliban and an EU diplomat said this is not what the UN position was expected to be.

“The recent decision to ban female UN staff has caused real concern here at the UN headquarters and is interesting that in addition to the comment of the deputy secretary general, the head of the UN developing programme recently raised the prospect of the UN pulling out completely from the country,” said Al Jazeera’s James Bays.

Earlier this month, the Taliban banned Afghan women employees of the United Nations from working throughout Afghanistan in a move defined as “disturbing” in a country where some 23 million people, more than half the country’s population, need help.

Since toppling the Western-backed government, they have also tightened controls over women’s access to public life, including barring women from university and closing most girls’ high schools.

The Taliban has said it respects women’s rights in accordance with its strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed told an event at Princeton University on Monday that discussion of recognition of the Taliban administration “has to happen … The Taliban clearly want recognition and that’s the leverage we have.”

In December, the 193-member UN General Assembly approved postponing, for the second time, a decision on whether to recognise the Afghan Taliban administration by allowing them to send a UN ambassador to New York.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies