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Analysts: Doha Meeting to Offer Chance for 'Constructive Dialogue' on Afghanistan

FILE - Tadamichi Yamamoto, U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, May 15, 2018. He has called an Afghan-focused summit that begins Feb. 18, 2024, in Doha "a great opportunity."
FILE - Tadamichi Yamamoto, U.N. special representative to Afghanistan, speaks during a press conference in Kabul, May 15, 2018. He has called an Afghan-focused summit that begins Feb. 18, 2024, in Doha "a great opportunity."

Days before a U.N.-sponsored conference on Afghanistan, it remains unclear whether the Taliban will attend what analysts describe as an opportunity for a "constructive dialogue" between the country's de facto rulers and the international community.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will host the two-day gathering opening Sunday in Doha, where member states and special envoys to Afghanistan are expected to discuss engagement with the Taliban.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, former U.N. special representative to Afghanistan and head of its Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, called Sunday's meeting — the U.N. chief's second Afghan-focused summit in Doha — "a great opportunity."

Taliban representatives, who were not invited to the first meeting in May 2023, have been invited to Sunday's meeting. Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, however, said Wednesday that the Taliban would participate only if they were received as official representatives of Afghanistan.

"If the IEA [Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan] conditions are not taken into consideration, nonparticipation would be preferred," said Muttaqi.

Neither the U.N. nor any other country officially recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, although China has accepted the credentials of their envoy in Beijing.

Significance of invitation

Yamamoto told VOA that he hoped the Taliban would attend the meeting, as it could provide a venue for a "constructive dialogue."

"It is important for the Taliban to realize that the invitation to attend the conference itself is an acknowledgment of the importance that the international community attaches to the dialogue with the Taliban," he said.

The Taliban had criticized the first meeting May 2023, saying it would be "ineffective" without their participation.

Ramazan Bashardost, a former member of Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of the former Afghan parliament, told VOA he found it "interesting" that the Taliban had now put conditions on their participation.

"The Taliban may be afraid that their political and armed opposition might also participate in the conference, which will be a significant blow to the Taliban," he said, adding that the Taliban typically stress their total control of Afghanistan with "no opposition" to their rule.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general, said it would be critical to hear from Afghan women in the Doha meeting.

"There will be a meeting between the envoys and civil society groups, which will, of course, include Afghan women," Dujarric said in the daily press briefing on Thursday.

After seizing power in August 2021, the Taliban imposed repressive measures on women, banning them from obtaining secondary and university education, traveling long distances without close male relatives, working with government and nongovernment organizations and going to gyms or parks.

Special envoy

The conference will also discuss the appointment of a U.N. envoy. The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution in December requesting that the secretary-general appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan "provided with robust expertise on human rights and gender, for coordination of the world community's engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan."

The Taliban oppose the appointment of a U.N. envoy to the country.

Barnett Rubin, a former U.S. diplomat and expert on Afghanistan, told VOA that the Taliban do not see a need for a new U.N. envoy as they do not believe that "such a dialogue is necessary or desirable."

"So, they believe that the reason for the envoy is to encourage a political dialogue that will be the formation of more inclusive government," said Rubin.

After seizing power, the Taliban formed an all-male and Taliban-only caretaker government. Rubin said the Taliban "want to maintain a monopoly on power; that is why they rejected U.N. envoy."

No recognition

The international community has called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government as one of the conditions for recognition.

Rubin said the Taliban have already built relations with neighboring states without formal recognition, adding that the Taliban feel no reason for "any concessions" to the international community.

In addition to forming an inclusive government, the international community has also called on the Taliban to respect human rights, particularly women's rights, and fulfill their counterterrorism commitments.

But the Taliban have not fulfilled any of their commitments, said Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

He told VOA that the international community should "make it clear that the Taliban does not deserve recognition or any form of legitimacy because they are behaving like an illegitimate regime, which they are."

Crocker added that there is "no justification" for any country to recognize the Taliban's government.

"I think it's very important that this conference in Doha reemphasizes that," he said.

Waheed Faizi of VOA's Afghan Service contributed to this report, which originated in VOA's Dari Service.