UN chief says ‘not the right time’ to engage with Taliban

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made the comments after a closed-door conference in Doha to build consensus on the challenges facing Afghanistan.

United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, delivers a press statement to reporters after a meeting of envoys from more than 20 countries on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar
The United Nations chief also said that the international community was 'worried' about the stability of Afghanistan under the Taliban [Imad Creidi/Reuters]

Doha, Qatar – An international conference on Afghanistan organised by the United Nations has ended in the Qatari capital with no formal acknowledgment of the Taliban, and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the right time for him to directly engage with the Afghan rulers.

“The meeting was about developing a common international approach, not about recognition of the de facto Taliban authorities,” Guterres told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday in Doha, adding he would hold similar meetings in the future.

Representatives of some 20 countries participated in the closed-door conference aimed at coordinating with international players on issues facing Afghanistan such as humanitarian crisis, women’s rights and counterterrorism.

Guterres condemned the Taliban rulers’ attacks on women’s rights, including the ban on school and university education.

“Let me be crystal clear, we will never be silent in the face of unprecedented systemic attacks on women’s and girls’ rights. We’ll always speak out when millions of women and girls are being silenced and erased from sight,” he said.

Since the Taliban took over in September 2021 in a swift and stunning victory, they have imposed strict conditions on women in the country that include stopping women from attending university and closing girls’ high schools.

The United States has imposed heavy sanctions on the country since Kabul fell to the Taliban, including commercial restrictions and freezing its assets, which the group says are making the situation for Afghans more dire.

The UN chief also said that the international community was “worried” about the stability of Afghanistan under the Taliban, which took over the country in the wake of the withdrawal of US forces after 20 years of war.

“They relate to the persistent presence of terrorist organisations, a risk for the country, the region and further,” he said, referring to the security threat posed by the ISIL (ISIS) Afghan affiliate Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP).

Taliban criticises its exclusion

Al Jazeera’s Diplomatic Editor James Bays, reporting from Doha, said not much has come out of the meeting. The only concrete thing that has been announced, Bays said, is that they are going to convene another meeting, possibly three to six months from now.

According to a senior UN source, the meeting was an effort to get all of the international community “on the same page, speaking with one voice”, the Al Jazeera correspondent said.

“They are hoping, for example, when the Chinese and Pakistan foreign ministers meet the Taliban Foreign Minister [Amir Khan Muttaqi] in the coming days, the parametres of those conversations will have been set by this meeting,” he said.

“But we are a long way from the Taliban being recognised.”

Muttaqi, who is under a UN travel ban, has been given exemptions to travel to Islamabad for the scheduled meeting.

But the Taliban has criticised the two-day meeting, saying its exclusion was “discriminatory and unjustified”. Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s ambassador-designate to the UN, earlier told Al Jazeera that issues facing his country can be solved only through the participation of the Taliban authorities – the main party to the issue – in the UN meeting.

Shaheen on Sunday met diplomats from the United Kingdom and China in Doha.

Former US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told Al Jazeera on Monday that Guterres had opted not to extend the invitation to the Taliban due to “opposition from Western countries”.

A coalition of Afghan women’s groups on Sunday wrote an open letter to Guterres saying they would feel “outraged” if any country were to consider formal ties with the Taliban, citing the issues of women’s rights in the country.

The Taliban administration remains diplomatically isolated as no country has recognised it and many of its senior leaders remain under international sanctions.

When questioned by Al Jazeera about the circumstances under which he will be willing to meet with the Taliban, the UN chief said currently it was not the right moment to do so.

“When it is the right moment to do so, I will obviously not refuse that possibility,” he said.

Humanitarian crisis

Guterres said Afghanistan is among the largest humanitarian crises in the world today, and vowed to stay in the country but said that UN funding was drying up.

“Ninety-seven percent of the people live in poverty,” he told reporters.

“Humanitarian aid is a fragile lifeline for millions of Afghans. The United Nations will not waver in our commitment to support the people of Afghanistan.”

Source: Al Jazeera