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UN ‘hopeful’ about Taliban’s presence at ‘Doha III’ meeting on Afghanistan


ISLAMABAD — A United Nations diplomat has encouraged the Taliban to attend a conference on Afghanistan later this month, stating that it would help return much-needed global attention to the crisis-ridden country. 

Malick Ceesay, the head of the Pakistan-based liaison office for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), told an unofficial dialogue between religious scholars from the two countries that the Ukraine war and Gaza hostilities had dramatically shifted the international attention from Afghanistan.

“And that’s a concern for the United Nations. We don’t want Afghanistan to be forgotten,” Ceesay said at the Tuesday meeting, hosted by the independent Center for Research and Security Studies in the Pakistani capital.

“We are hopeful that this time around, the Islamic Emirate will send its representatives (to Doha) to be able to engage with the international community in a constructive and effective manner,” the U.N. diplomat said, using the official title of the Taliban government in Kabul. 

The two-day U.N. conference of special envoys on Afghanistan will commence in Doha, Qatar, on June 30. According to a U.N. spokesperson, it aims to increase international engagement with the Taliban and Afghanistan at large “in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner.”

The meeting will be the third in the tiny Gulf nation’s capital since U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres launched the process in May 2023. He did not invite the Taliban to the first session, and Afghanistan’s de facto rulers declined an invitation to attend the second this past February.

The Taliban have publicly stated their intention to send a delegation to the “Doha III” conference, saying they have shared their conditions with the U.N. and will make a formal announcement after reviewing its “final agenda.” 

While they have not revealed their conditions, the Taliban had asked the U.N. in the run-up to the second Doha meeting that their delegates would be accepted as the sole official representatives of the country, meaning that Afghan civil society representatives, women’s rights activists, and members of opposition groups would not be present. 

They also sought a meeting between their delegation and the U.N. at “a very senior level.” Guterres rejected the conditions as unacceptable. The international community has not recognized the Taliban government as Afghanistan’s legitimate rulers, and the country remains under U.N. sanctions. 

Ceesay said Tuesday that the Taliban’s restrictions on women’s access to education and employment and a lack of inclusivity in the Taliban government continue to raise questions about the Afghan authorities’ legitimacy. 

“These are all tied together. The Islamic Emirate leadership knows that this is the reason why the recognition is not coming,” he said.

The Muslim U.N. diplomat criticized the Taliban’s assertion that their treatment of women aligns with Islamic law.

“Islam never says that women should not go to school, and Islam never says that women should not go to work. Which (version of) Islam and which Quran says that? It’s not found in there,” he added. 

Ceesay said that UNAMA is engaging with all Afghans to help them achieve a broad-based governance system that includes everybody.  

“Islamic Emirate is doing a fairly notable job on that, but we want it to increase more so that every Afghan citizen will feel that they belong to the country and the government belongs to them, not just one-sided, 90% one ethnicity. That’s not fair,” he stated.

The conservative Taliban are ethnically Pashtun, the majority community in Afghanistan.

Ceesay said the Taliban have allowed Afghan females to work in some public offices related to passport, immigration, healthcare, and agriculture. But those concessions have been “overshadowed” due to bans on the remaining women’s access to employment and girls’ education beyond grade six, he added.

The reclusive Taliban supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, who governs the country through edicts based on his harsh interpretation of Islam, has dismissed international criticism and calls for reforming his policies. 

In the run-up to the third Doha conference, pro-Taliban social media activists have posted audio of a recent speech by Akhundzada in which he vowed not to budge on his stance under foreign pressure, come what may. 

“Who are you to meddle in our land, system, and policies? I am not here to take your orders nor will I take a single step with you or deal with you regarding the Sharia (Islamic law),” Akhudzada said.