The End of the Doha Meeting in the Absence of the Taliban

By: Ali Sajjad Mawlayi

The United Nations held a meeting on the situation in Afghanistan on May 1 and 2 in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The two-day meeting was attended by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the representative of the European Union, the representative of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), and special representatives of the countries of the region. In this meeting, no faction from Afghanistan was present and the Taliban were not invited either. After two days of talks and discussions on various issues in Afghanistan, this meeting ended without any concrete results. Guterres said in the press conference after the meeting that another meeting will be held regarding Afghanistan to reach a tangible result. Here we discuss some important points from Guterres’ speech and the two-day meeting.

1-The Issue of Recognizing the Taliban Was not on the Agenda
At the end of this meeting, Guterres said the agenda of the meeting did not encompass the issue of recognizing the Taliban and it was not discussed. But it seems that the organization has backed down on this matter. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed said a while ago that the United Nations is going to hold a meeting to discuss the recognition of the Taliban which, however, was met with harsh criticism from Afghan citizens. Human rights activists, defenders of women’s rights, and minorities held massive demonstrations in several cities around the world in protest against this meeting, and simultaneously, the “Do not recognize the Taliban” campaign was one of the hot topics on social media in Afghanistan last week. A sharp wave of criticism and open letters were addressed to the UN Secretary-General, which seemingly has caused the UN and its members to back down from their position on recognizing the Taliban. On the other hand, according to diplomatic sources, the disclosure of the agenda of the Doha meeting by Mohammed caused the agenda to be revised. With this description, it appears that there is a divide among the members of the United Nations regarding the engagement with the Taliban.

2-Many and Varied Concerns
One of the most important themes of the two-day Doha meeting is the security concerns of the countries of the region due to the presence of numerous terrorist groups in Afghanistan. In his closing remarks, Guterres said that they are concerned about the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan, which is a direct threat to the security of the region and beyond. In the meantime, China, Russia, Central Asian countries, Iran, and Pakistan are very worried about the security situation in Afghanistan, fearing that the insecurity will spread to these countries. The security situation in Pakistan changed drastically after the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, leading to an increase in the number of attacks. China is concerned about the presence of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in Afghanistan and has repeatedly shared this concern with the leaders of the Taliban. Central Asian countries and Russia are worried about the presence of Islamic State-Khorasan (ISS-K) in Afghanistan and are still afraid of the spread of Islamic radicalism on their soil. Groups such as Ansarullah and the ETIM are in Afghanistan and have had a good relationship with the Taliban for many years. Along with the security concerns of the presence of ISS-K in Afghanistan, Iran is also paying attention to the Hirmand water issue. Last week, a delegation from Iran traveled to Afghanistan to talk with the Taliban about Hirmand’s water right. European countries and the United States are more concerned about the dire situation of human rights in Afghanistan, emphasizing that the human rights of Afghan citizens, especially women, should be respected. However, it appears that the concerns of the countries of the region and the world about Afghanistan are not similar, causing the meeting to end without any results. Although Guterres said that the countries attending the meeting had common views, if you pay attention to the statements of the diplomats of these countries, there is no such coordination. For example, Iranian authorities have a different position from other countries of the world regarding the Taliban’s strict restrictions on women. Having confirmed the statement of the Taliban, Iran declared that this group should be given the right to restrict women. This issue was raised by Iranian officials after Taliban Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said that the issue of women is an internal issue of Afghanistan and foreign countries have no right to interfere in it.

Along with the issue of terrorist groups, what has become a concern of the United Nations and neighboring countries is the issue of narcotic cultivation and trafficking. Although the Taliban have promised several times that they will end narcotic cultivation, Afghanistan is still at the top of the list of drug producers in the world.

4-Women and Human Rights
The issue of human rights, and freedoms of women, and individuals is one of the most important reasons not having allowed the Taliban to gain international legitimacy. In this meeting, it was emphasized that the Taliban should recognize these rights and freedoms. Although the Taliban imposed restrictions on women from the very beginning and gradually intensified these restrictions, what aroused the anger and concern of the United Nations is that the Taliban also imposed restrictions on the female employees of this organization, banning them from going to workplaces. In addition to being worried about the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the United Nations is also worried about the continuation of its work and project. This issue was raised when the United Nations reacted seriously only to its employees and warned the Taliban of closing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). In any case, it seems that engagement with the Taliban depends on these few issues, in addition to the formation of a comprehensive government. There was a controversy among the countries present in the meeting on the definition of an inclusive government in Afghanistan as each of them considers a specific definition and structure of inclusive government to be favorable for the situation in Afghanistan.

5- Reaching a One-handed Mechanism to Engage with the Taliban
Guterres said that the purpose of holding the meeting was to reach a road map for the future of Afghanistan and the attending countries are also trying to reach an understanding on a unified mechanism for interaction with the Taliban. Guterres added that they should have a single road map to reach out to the emergency in Afghanistan. He stressed that currently, more than 90 percent of the people of Afghanistan need urgent help and according to him, engaging with the Taliban is necessary to meet the issue.

6- Meeting the Taliban
Guterres spoke more cautiously about Afghanistan after the strong criticism of the work of the organization in Afghanistan and the statement of Mohammed. When asked about meeting and talking directly with the Taliban, he said that the time has not yet come and the issue is not on the agenda for him at the moment. The UN Secretary-General also said that the meeting will continue and that it is vital for them to reach a precise and appropriate solution regarding the issue of Afghanistan.

On the other hand, the presence of UNAMA in Afghanistan is mandatory and vital. Considering the current situation in Afghanistan, if UNAMA withdraws from Afghanistan, the situation will become worse and will lead to a humanitarian disaster. On the other hand, the issue does not mean that the functioning of this institution will not be criticized or that this organization will move towards legitimizing the Taliban. In other words, if it is decided to engage with the Taliban, the Afghan people will be the main losers, and if UNAMA leaves Afghanistan, the main losers will be the Afghan citizens.

7- The Collective Consciousness of the People Delayed the Taliban Behind the Door
If we assess the situation in Afghanistan with a relatively critical view, we will realize that many countries in the region and the world are willing to have diplomatic relations with the Taliban and recognize the group. Taliban lobbyists are also endeavoring internationally to persuade countries to recognize them. But the collective consciousness of Afghan citizens inside and outside the country is an obstacle to this issue. The two-day meeting in Doha was also heavily affected by the recent protests.

Guterres’ statement at the end of the meeting indicated the same issue and his emphasis on human and women’s rights was the result of recent protests and criticisms. Afghan women’s protests in the streets of Kabul, London, and Paris demonstrate the collective consciousness of Afghan citizens who demand their human rights and civil liberties.