U.N.-Taliban Strategic Engagement in Focus

In the major diplomatic development, the third two-day United Nations Afghanistan high-level summit took place in Doha, which could be seen a new era of interaction with the Taliban regime. This chain of meetings has been held since the May of the last year and is aimed at developing a systematic, coordinated, and structured talks with the Afghan authorities who, despite their being a subject of the international controversy, hold the power in Afghanistan at the present time.

The first two meetings excluded the Taliban, as according to the UN, Afghan Taliban could not be included unless other Afghan stakeholders were also invited, including civil society. The U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres explained that, in this case, it means recognizing the Taliban as the sole legitimate representatives, which is inadmissible. Nevertheless, the third configuration was characterized by a different approach. UN’s Under Secretary General for Peacebuilding and Political Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo paid a visit to Afghanistan in May to negotiate with the Taliban. The Taliban themselves agreed only days prior to the meeting.

At the third session, Afghan Taliban delegation with their spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid attended and others from about 30 countries and organizations. The inclusion also meant the participation of the Taliban they wanted the international community to un-freeze Afghan money and lift restrictions on the country’s economy. Nevertheless, international discussions on forming an inclusive government, women, media freedom, and suppression of the militant networks still continued and the dialogue took place without actual participation of Afghan civil society and women’s advocacies; this has raised criticism among human rights bodies. To emphasize diplomatic interaction, the U. N. scheduled the meeting headed by the U. N.’s Rosemary DiCarlo instead of Secretary-General Guterres. It is noteworthy, however, that DiCarlo did recognize the urgent need to engage the Taliban in order to address the problems of Afghanistan, which also did not entail the dismissal of the voice of Afghan women and civil society. The main forum was followed by a meeting with the representatives of civil society, where the issues which were not discussed during the main event were discussed. While the Taliban did not get official accreditation from the states, no state refused to participate in the forum. The Taliban influentially demanded to separate business relation with the counterarguments regarding human rights and terrorism, which earned them scarce applause for their contingency planning, expertise and technical acumen. It seems that the UN’s promotion of interaction is more focused on the intention to gain a foothold in the movement rather than sticking to the principles of gender equality and minorities’ representation. This has caused a lot of concern since the Afghan Taliban has a poor record as far as human rights are concerned. However, it highlights the fact that the U.N. has comparatively very few ways to affect the Islamic Emirate beyond the power of rhetoric. Some scholars opine that the U. N.’s could have asked for more concrete assurances from the Afghan Taliban on human rights compatible with Islam by engaging with the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

In addition to the U. N. platform, Pakistan maintained a quite active diplomatic contact with the Afghan Interim Government. The controversy regarding TTP and border conflict regional and influential Pakistani officials held talks with the Taliban leaders. The Afghan foreign minister met Pakistan’s mission in Qatar and hosted a dinner to discuss and sort out mutual concerns such as curbing militancy and Afghan refugee problem. During the quadrilateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and the Trans-Afghan Railway project which has the potential of enhanced regional integration was presented, which will connect South to Central Asia.

This choice of the U. N. to host the Taliban given severe human rights criticisms and exclusion of Afghan civil society organizations can be viewed as highly unconvincing; yet, emphasizing one’s practical line and providing for the creation of more official dialog, including the humanitarian one, and overcoming climate impacts on Afghanistan can be seen as a rather pragmatic rather than highly skeptical diplomatic approach recognized.
The experience of the meetings in Doha means that the approach to the Taliban is not only inter alia counter-terrorism and persistent advocacy of human rights, care about the provision of humanitarian aid continues, but it should be done selectively to achieve tangible guarantees of non-interference in the treatment of citizens from the Taliban side, possibly with the help of regional partners such as the OIC. In such a way, while the international community is balancing itself in this delicate involvement today, the priorities remain the pursuit of regional peace, stability and the Afghan people’s welfare.

Asma Khan Durrani
Asma Khan Durrani

Asma Khan Durrani is a distinguished specialist/scholar in Defence Strategic Affairs based in Islamabad. With expertise in Defence and Strategic Studies and a Master of Philosophy in International Relations, she has garnered national and international recognition.

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