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Taliban tout UN invite to Doha meeting as proof of regime’s rising importance

A screenshot of Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi’s video speech released by his office, June 24, 2024.
A screenshot of Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi’s video speech released by his office, June 24, 2024.

Afghanistan's Taliban are touting a United Nations invitation to an international conference in Qatar later this month, viewing it as an acknowledgment of their administration's growing significance globally.

The two-day U.N. meeting between the Taliban and international envoys on Afghanistan is set for June 30 in Doha, the capital of the Gulf state, amid sharp criticism from human rights groups for excluding Afghan women representatives.

It will be the third session of what is known as the “Doha process,” and the fundamentalist de facto Afghan rulers have agreed to attend for the first time.

“The Doha meeting will be held in the coming days, and the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has been officially invited to attend,” Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi announced in a video statement released by his office on Monday.

The Taliban returned to power nearly three years ago and established their hardline male-only government in Kabul, named the Islamic Emirate, which has yet to be recognized by the international community.

“We have developed good relations with neighboring and regional countries and are also actively pursuing positive and cordial ties with Western and U.S. governments,” Muttaqi said while addressing his ministry staff in the Afghan capital.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched the Doha process a year ago to establish a unified international approach to engagement with the Taliban, who have banned Afghan girls from education beyond the sixth grade and many women from public and private workplaces.

Guterres did not invite de facto Afghan rulers to the first Doha conference in May 2023, and they refused to take part in the second this past February, citing the participation of Afghan civil society representatives and human rights activists.

U.N. officials have defended the upcoming rare dialogue with the Taliban, promising that special envoys from about 25 countries at the meeting will “forcefully” raise restrictions on women’s and girls’ rights, among other human rights concerns.

On Friday, Roza Otunbayeva, the head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, emphasized the importance of the world community opening a direct dialogue with the Taliban, suggesting it could create opportunities for Afghan women to participate in future talks.

“They would tell them [the Taliban] that, 'Look, it doesn’t work like this, and we should have women around the table and also provide them with access to the business,'” she told reporters in New York after briefing a U.N. Security Council meeting on the Afghan situation.

Speaking at the meeting, Otunbayeva said that her mission had met with hundreds of Afghans, especially women, around the country in the run-up to the third Doha meeting.

“These consultations revealed a broad agreement that it was important for the de facto authorities to attend the meeting but that there should also be no recognition of the de facto authorities until the issues of women’s rights, girls’ education, and an acceptable constitution were broadly addressed,” the UNAMA chief said.

Otunbayeva stated that the U.N. would consult Afghan civil society and rights representatives in Afghanistan and abroad before the June 30 meeting. She noted that U.N. political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo and envoys from various countries will meet separately with Afghan rights activists in Doha on July 2, a day after the meeting with the Taliban ends.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have sharply criticized the U.N. for inviting the Taliban to the Doha talks rather than holding them accountable for “crimes” against Afghan women and girls.

"Excluding women risks legitimizing the Taliban's abuses and triggering irreparable harm to the U.N.’s credibility as an advocate for women's rights and women's meaningful participation," Tirana Hassan, executive director at Human Rights Watch, said of the third planned Doha meeting.

Otunbayeva said the Doha meeting would mainly focus on private sector business, the Afghan banking sector, and counternarcotics, issues she attributed to women's rights in the country.

The Taliban have vehemently defended their governance, claiming it is aligned with Afghan culture and their harsh interpretation of Islamic law. The hardline group seized power in August 2021 as U.S.-led NATO troops withdrew from Afghanistan after nearly two decades of engagement in the war with the then-insurgent Taliban.

Guterres chaired the previous Doha meetings, but the coming session will be hosted by DiCarlo. She traveled to Kabul in May and invited Muttaqi to attend the talks. The Taliban have not yet confirmed whether their foreign minister will lead the delegation at the meeting.

"We are trying to establish a process and preserve an important mechanism of consultation. We must be realistic about how much each meeting in this process can deliver, especially at this early stage where confidence and trust are insufficient,” stressed Otunbayeva in her speech to the U.N. Security Council on Friday.