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Taliban Refuse to Attend UN Conference on Afghanistan

FILE - The Taliban's flag is seen in a marketplace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2022. While the Taliban are the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, no nation has officially recognized the group as the country's true government.
FILE - The Taliban's flag is seen in a marketplace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2022. While the Taliban are the de facto rulers of Afghanistan, no nation has officially recognized the group as the country's true government.

The Afghan Taliban have decided not to participate in a U.N.-sponsored conference on Afghanistan in Qatar’s capital Doha.

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

In a statement issued Saturday evening on social media platform X, the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said a delegation would attend only if the Taliban were accepted as the single official representative of Afghanistan.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified to the U.N. that if the Islamic Emirate is to participate as the sole official representative of Afghanistan ... then participation would be beneficial. Else, ineffectual participation by the Emirate due to non-progress in this area was deemed unbeneficial,” the ministry said.

The Taliban use the term Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, or IEA, for their administration.

The United Nations has invited Afghan civil society members, as well as groups opposed to the Taliban, to meet with special envoys for Afghanistan.

“There will be a meeting with the Taliban, but there will also be a meeting of envoys with civil society, including women's groups, because it's important that the voices of Afghan women be heard very loud and clear,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general said in the daily press briefing Friday. His remarks came prior to the Taliban’s refusal to attend.

Expressing opposition to the inclusion of non-Taliban voices, the foreign ministry said it was possible to achieve progress in talks “if the U.N. takes stock of current realities, rebuffs influence and pressure of a few parties.”

The statement released just hours before the conference begins put an end to days of confusion about whether the de facto rulers of Afghanistan would attend.

Earlier, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi’s office had quoted him telling the Russian Ambassador Dmitry Zhirnov that de facto rulers had “shared our views on the possible participation.”

“If there is an opportunity for high-level meaningful consultations between IEA and [the] U.N. regarding all issues of Afghanistan, and the IEA is able to duly fulfill its responsibility as the representative of Afghanistan, then the Doha meeting would be a good opportunity.”

Doha conference

The conference in Doha is the second U.N.-led international dialogue on Afghanistan since the Taliban took control of the country in August 2021 after the end of a 20-year war with the U.S. and its allies.

While the Taliban were not invited to the first global assembly in May 2023, the U.N. was seeking the group’s presence this time.

“An important aspect of the event is the intention to provide the opportunity for the special envoys to meet collectively with Afghan stakeholders, including representatives of the de facto authorities and Afghan civil society participants, including women,” Dujarric told VOA earlier this week.

Along with discussing how the international community should engage with the Taliban — and addressing the plight of Afghan women and girls who are barred from studying and working — the conference is expected to discuss the appointment of a special U.N. envoy for Afghanistan.

The Taliban oppose such an appointment.

Recognition issue

Despite controlling Afghanistan for more than two years, the Taliban have failed in their bid for official recognition. The U.N. has refused to grant the group Afghanistan’s seat at the world body.

While many countries have embassies in Kabul and foreign officials engage regularly with Taliban representatives, only China has accepted an Afghan ambassador and sent its envoy to Kabul. However, Beijing insists it has not officially recognized the Taliban government.

The international community demands that to be recognized, the Taliban must form an inclusive government and lift the ban on women’s education and work.

The Taliban foreign ministry statement issued Saturday rejected efforts to push the group to soften its stance.

“If repetition of failed 20-year experimentation is discarded, and a realistic and pragmatic approach is adopted over unilateral impositions, accusations and pressurization, then progress can also be made in bilateral relations with other parties.”

VOA U.N. Correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this story.