UN summit in Qatar on Afghanistan ends, another planned

UN chief criticises Taliban's treatment on women, saying ban on allowing them to work in aid groups was unacceptable


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UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks after a closed-door summit on Afghanistan in Doha. — AP
UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks after a closed-door summit on Afghanistan in Doha. — AP

Published: Tue 2 May 2023, 9:46 PM

A closed-door summit on Afghanistan ended on Tuesday in Qatar without any formal acknowledgement of the Taliban-run government there, though the United Nations' chief said they would hold another meeting in the future.

Activists had worried the gathering in Doha could see the international community reach a recognition deal with the Taliban, even as Afghan women remain largely barred from society under their restrictive measures.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the summit, which the world body described as an event where nations and organisations were trying to reach unified stances on human rights, governance, counterterrorism and anti-drug efforts related to Afghanistan.

No recognition of the Taliban as a legitimate government had been anticipated to come out of the meeting, though activists in recent days suggested it was a possibility. The Taliban seized Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final weeks of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

“To achieve our objectives, we cannot disengage,” Guterres said. “And many called for engagement to be more effective and based on lessons we have learned from the past.”

He did not elaborate, though the Taliban previously controlled Afghanistan from 1994 to 2001.

Asked by a journalist if there would be any circumstance under which he'd be wiling to directly meet with the Taliban, Guterres said: “When it is the right moment to do so, I will obviously not refuse that possibility — but today is not the right moment to do so.”

The Taliban themselves were not invited and did not attend the meeting.

Suhail Shaheen, the head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that the new Afghan government dismissed the talks.


“If they are not ready to hear us and know our position regarding the issues, how can they reach a convincing and palatable solution?" Shaheen said. "One-sided decisions couldn’t deliver. Afghanistan is an independent country. It has its own voice; we want them to listen to our voice.”

Shaheen on Sunday met Andrew McCoubrey, director of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the United Kingdom's Foreign Office, and Yue Xiaoyong, China’s special envoy for Afghanistan, in Doha.

“As you know, the UN envoy has talks with government officials in Kabul, but when it comes to these sorts of conferences ... we are not invited," Shaheen added. "We think this is not the solution for Afghan issues and its outcome can’t be effective.”

Afghanistan’s acting foreign minister, Maulvi Amir Khan Muttaqi, will travel to Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, later this week to meet Chinese and Pakistani officials.

In the time since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan has become the most repressive in the world for women and girls, deprived of virtually all their basic rights, according to the UN.

Girls are banned from education beyond sixth grade and women are barred from working, studying, travelling without a male companion, and even going to parks or bath houses. Women must also cover themselves from head to toe and are barred from working at national and international non-governmental organisations, disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid. Afghanistan remains wracked by poverty and hunger, squeezed like other nations by Russia's war on Ukraine.

Guterres offered stinging criticism of the Taliban's treatment of women, saying its ban on allowing them to work in aid groups was “unacceptable and puts lives in jeopardy".

“Let me be crystal clear: We will never be silent in the face of unprecedented, systemic attacks on women and girls’ rights,” he said. “We will always speak out when millions of women and girls are being silenced and erased from sight. This is a grave violation of fundamental human rights.”

Meanwhile, concerns remain over Afghanistan again becoming a haven for extremists wanting to strike out abroad. The US-led 2001 invasion came on the back of Al-Qaeda's Sept. 11 attack on New York and Washington. Since the Taliban takeover, the US has carried out drone strikes targeting suspected militants.

Those concerns have complicated how nations, particularly the West, deal with Afghanistan today.

The Taliban are “a terrorist group whose deeply repressive regime has systematically sought to erase more than half of the population from society,” an open letter from the activists read. “Having denied women and girls almost all of their fundamental human rights, the Taliban has become the only regime in the world upholding a system of gender apartheid.”

The countries that took part in the Doha summit included China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uzbekistan.

Qatar, an energy-rich nation on the Arabian Peninsula which long hosted a political office for the Taliban, hosted the talks.

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