After three days of deliberation on international security and peace, the Munich Security Conference concluded. The war in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan were of particular interest to senior government officials from numerous nations. Discussions at the conference focused on the political situation, security risks, the Taliban’s disregard for women’s and human rights, and the formation of an inclusive government in Afghanistan. Most of the participants in speeches and media events expressed that the Taliban do not have a “clear intention” to combat terrorism, and are not capable of doing so. The Taliban are seen as a threat to Afghanistan’s future by those present at the conference. Despite exploring ways to collaborate with the Taliban, the representatives of several countries made it clear that there is no plan to recognize the Taliban. Mahbooba Saraj and Hosna Jalil, Afghan representatives, attended the conference. Ms. Saraj urged the international community to pay attention to the situation in Afghanistan and highlighted the need for Afghanistan to find a way out of its predicament. Hosna Jalil also spoke about the dire circumstances of women living under the Taliban’s rule and requested international support for Afghan women.
The 59th Munich Security Conference was held from February 17 to 19. The primary focus of discussion was the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but other topics such as the situation in Afghanistan were also discussed. Approximately 90 foreign ministers and 50 presidents were invited to attend, and Afghan civil rights and women’s rights activists Mahbooba Saraj and Hosna Jalil were also present. Representatives from the governments of Iran, Russia, and the Taliban were not invited.
In a conversation with Hasht-e-Subh, Hosna Jalil, a women’s rights activist and former deputy of the Interior Ministry who attended the meeting online, said that most of the representatives still do not understand how to interact with the Taliban. She claims that the inclusion of well-known terrorist figures in the Taliban’s structure has made the entire world wary of engaging with them. Ms. Jalil continues: “All of the representatives present at this conference questioned the Taliban’s intentions and their capability to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and ensure regional and international countries that terrorists won’t reemerge from Afghanistan’s soil.” In a conversation with Hasht-e-Subh, Hosna Jalil, a women’s rights activist and former deputy of the Interior Ministry who attended the meeting online, said that most of the representatives still do not understand how to interact with the Taliban. She claims that the inclusion of well-known terrorist figures in the Taliban’s structure has made the entire world wary of engaging with them. Ms. Jalil continues: “All of the representatives present at this conference questioned the Taliban’s intentions and their capability to combat terrorism in Afghanistan and ensure regional and international countries that terrorists won’t reemerge from Afghanistan’s soil.” She adds: “The position of the United States of America and European countries about the recognition of the Taliban has been extremely clear and unfavorable.”
Hosna Jalil stated that the participants of the conference sent a positive and effective message to Afghan women, and she believes that women in Afghanistan who are affected by the Taliban’s destructive policies should take the initiative in civil resistance. Ms. Jalil noted that the attendees of the meeting paid close attention to Afghan women: “Afghanistan is seen as secure when women feel secure there. It was an excellent discussion. It was overwhelmingly supportive. Most of the speakers talked about Afghan women.”
Mahbooba Saraj, a women’s rights activist who joined the gathering via video chat, emphasized the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan, stating that it is in danger of disintegrating and that the international community must act quickly to prevent this. She implored, “We are dying here. I don’t care what the world thinks of or does with the Taliban. The world must take action now to help us survive this situation; use whatever resources it can.” in response to the world’s silence on the matter.
Affirming that the elimination of potential terrorist threats from Afghanistan is Islamabad’s highest priority, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari outlined Pakistan’s worries about Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban. He stated: “The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, the Baloch Liberation Army, ISIS, and the Al-Qaeda network are just a few of the groups that pose a threat in the region. Foreign terrorist groups in Afghanistan have been a source of concern for China, the West, and Pakistan, according to Pakistan’s foreign minister. The current rulers of Afghanistan lack the necessary capabilities and have not taken any special measures to combat these groups.” He called for the establishment of an inclusive Afghan government and urged the Taliban to abide by their agreements with the international community.
Furthermore, Hadfa Lahbib, the Foreign Minister of Belgium, addressed the Afghan roundtable held outside of the Munich Security Conference. She declared that the Taliban pose a grave danger to Afghanistan’s future, particularly the security of its women and girls. The Foreign Minister of Belgium tweeted that Belgium is committed to aiding the Afghan people. Moreover, she emphasized the necessity of increased collaboration between regional and international organizations.
At this conference, Michael McCaul, a United States Representative on the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that “due to security concerns, we are unable to work directly with the Taliban, however, China is present and has responsibilities. For instance, Mr. Haqqani, the Taliban’s Interior Minister, is a wanted terrorist and has connections to Al-Qaeda.”
The world has accused the Taliban of being unable to combat terrorism, yet the West and the surrounding nations have often expressed concern about the presence of terrorist networks in Afghanistan operating under the protection of the Taliban group. On August 1, 2022, a drone from the United States struck Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of the al-Qaeda network, in the heart of Kabul. Although the Taliban have not yet confirmed this statement, the United States of America has asserted that President Joe Biden was the leader of the operation.
The Russian government has expressed concern over the presence of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, with estimates of over 6,500 in the Tajikistan and Afghanistan border regions. Nevertheless, the Taliban’s acting Minister of Foreign Affairs has declared that any ISIS members found in Afghanistan will be eliminated and the group will not be allowed to operate.
The Taliban have asserted that, with the assistance of the international community, they can work together to eliminate the dangers that Afghanistan poses to other countries. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, informed the media: “The world and countries should take advantage of this stability and cooperate with it so that we can jointly address challenges on regional and international levels and reduce tensions.”
Munich Conference Addresses Afghan Women’s Issues
At the Munich meeting, the difficult lives of women under the Taliban’s rule were discussed. Hosna Jalil, a former deputy in the Ministry of Interior and an activist for women’s rights, noted that the statements from the participants of this meeting were positive for Afghan women. She highlighted five themes in this conversation regarding Afghan women living under Taliban rule, and asserted that “the experiences of those whose lives have been directly impacted by the Taliban’s policies and atrocities should be shared, rather than the narratives of foreign journalists who enter Afghanistan or Afghans who do not experience the same tragedy as these women.” She further stated that “Afghan women’s lives under the Taliban’s rule should be the narrative of the victims, who number in the millions.”
Hosna Jalil believes that Afghans living abroad, as well as the international community, should support the interests of those who have been directly affected by the Taliban’s abhorrent policies. Jalil emphasizes the cooperation and accord among aid agencies working in Afghanistan and states: “When the international community desires to communicate with the Taliban, they should not only view Afghan women as victims of Taliban brutality, but also provide them with political representation.”
At the Munich Security Conference, the female foreign ministers of Albania, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Mongolia, and Slovenia made a statement condemning the Taliban’s restrictions on Afghan women and advocating for their return to society and their rights to work in domestic and international organizations. The declaration reads, “We female foreign ministers at the Munich security meeting unequivocally condemn the Taliban’s attempt to exclude women from all spheres of public life.”
Furthermore, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, spoke about women’s education while expressing his worries for Afghanistan’s future, stating, “We all desire to witness educated women in Afghanistan, and the interim government should fulfill its responsibilities towards women in their nation.”
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan and began to systematically exclude women from society, the issue of women’s rights has been a major point of contention at the Munich conference. The Taliban’s most obvious restrictions on women include the closure of girls’ secondary and high schools, the prohibition of women from working in non-governmental organizations, and the closure of girls’ universities. Other restrictions include the regulation of women’s dress, the banning of women from visiting amusement parks, attending public baths, and travelling without a member of the woman’s family.
The Munich Conference
The Munich Security Meeting has been held between members of the European Union since the 1960s, though only occasionally. Following 2011, the membership of the meeting increased and its agenda expanded, yet the topic of “international security and peace” remains the primary focus. In the realm of international politics, the Munich conference is one of the most significant gatherings of representatives from different countries. It is distinguished by the presence of leaders and representatives from Western countries, with approximately 40 presidents and 90 foreign ministers from multiple countries reported to have attended. The annual Munich meeting is held for three days at Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Germany, and during this time participants vote, share opinions, and respond to global concerns, though no decisions are made. The current chairman of the meeting is Mr. Christoph Heusgen.