UN holds crucial Afghanistan talks in Qatar, without Taliban
Talks will include diplomatic envoys and aid donors as the UN plans to press the Taliban to ease restrictions on women.
Doha, Qatar – The Taliban has not been invited to a United Nations-organised conference on Afghanistan in Doha, with the Afghan group governing the South Asian country saying that the two-day meeting would be “ineffective” without its participation.
Envoys from the United States, China and Russia, as well as major European aid donors and key neighbours such as Pakistan, are among the representatives from about 25 countries and groups called to the two days of closed-door talks by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in the Qatari capital on Monday.
“Any meeting about Afghanistan without the participation of the Afghan government is ineffective and counterproductive,” Abdul Qahar Balkhi, the Taliban foreign ministry spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
Last week, the UN chief said the de facto Afghan rulers would not be invited to the meeting to discuss the dire humanitarian situation in the country and its international isolation. A UN source told Al Jazeera on Monday that Taliban recognition was not on the agenda.
His statement came after members of the Afghan diaspora and some Western countries expressed concerns against the possible recognition of the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), as the Taliban refers to the country, in the wake of a statement by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed.
In an open letter on Sunday, a coalition of Afghan women’s groups said they were “outraged” that any country would consider formal ties because of the record of the government that says its handling of women’s rights is “an internal social issue”.
“The Taliban’s brutal treatment of women and girls is unacceptable. We must not forget the progress we have made over the years, and we must continue to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan,” Fawzia Koofi, a prominent Afghan politician, recently tweeted.
The Taliban has been criticised for its growing curbs on women, including a ban on education and employment.
Mohammed suggested on April 24 that the Doha meeting “could find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition” [of the Taliban].
The UN said the comments were misinterpreted. No country has recognised the Taliban government, which has struggled to address the humanitarian and economic crisis.
Suhail Shaheen, Taliban’s ambassador-designate to the UN, said the decision to exclude the IEA representatives was “discriminatory and unjustified”.
Shaheen said issues facing his country can be solved only through a pragmatic approach and with the participation of the IEA – the main party to the issue – in the UN meeting.
“How a decision taken at such meetings can be acceptable or implemented while we are not part of the process?” he asked.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US envoy to Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera that the UN chief decided not to invite the Taliban “because of opposition from Western countries”.
Khalilzad, who signed the 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban, hoped that the meeting will produce a realistic roadmap for international engagement with Afghanistan.
The Doha Agreement resulted in the US withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021 after 20 years of occupation, leading to the collapse of the West-backed government.
The Taliban was accused of violating the Doha Agreement after military takeover of the country but the group has defended its move. It says the international sanctions and its isolation is against the spirit of the Doha Agreement while it has kept the promise to not allow Afghanistan to become a haven for armed groups such as ISIL (ISIS).
Before the Doha meeting, the office of the UN chief said the meeting “is intended to achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to engage with the Taliban” on women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive governance, countering terrorism and drug trafficking.
An unnamed European diplomat told Al Jazeera that he did not expect anything will come out of the meeting, while an Asian diplomat, who wished to remain anonymous, said any outside effort to set priorities for Afghanistan will always be pushed back.
The UN Security Council on Thursday condemned the curbs on Afghan women. The UN, which has been engaging with the Taliban, provides food aid to millions of Afghans. The UN deputy chief travelled to Kabul in January to meet Taliban leaders to press the group on women’s rights and education.
The Doha meeting is crucial for the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan.
It comes as the UN is expected to review its critical relief operation in Afghanistan in the wake of Afghan women being stopped from working with the global agency.
The UN has said it faces an “appalling choice” over whether to maintain its huge operation in the country of 38 million. The review is scheduled to be completed on Friday.