Feridun Sinirlioğlu, the UN Special Coordinator for the Independent Assessment of Afghanistan, presented a report to the UN Security Council on Friday, November 17, regarding the current situation in Afghanistan under Taliban rule. Sinirlioğlu, appointed on April 25 by Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, as the Special Coordinator for the Independent Assessment of Afghanistan, was tasked by the Security Council in mid-March to conduct an independent assessment, including proposed solutions, of the ongoing situation in Afghanistan and to submit it to the Council. Sinirlioğlu assumed the role of Independent Inspector of Afghanistan with the mandate from Guterres for this purpose.
The organized report by Sinirlioğlu is crucial as it outlines a roadmap’s significance. If approved by the Security Council, its provisions will be implemented, even if faced with opposition from the Taliban or opposing forces. While the Security Council’s final decision has not been issued, reactions to it have escalated. Seventeen reputable organizations advocating for women’s and human rights, the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), and the Afghanistan National Liberty Party (ANLP) led by Rahmatullah Nabil are entities that have assessed the UN’s evaluation as weak, optimistic, and favorable to the Taliban. This comes as the Taliban, in turn, has expressed opposition to certain parts of it.
The weakness of the United Nations experts’ assessment lies in portraying Afghanistan under Taliban control as peaceful as if a legitimate government is in place and the people are satisfied with it. This indicates, according to Rahmatullah Nabil, that the experts of this organization have fallen into excessive optimism. The only aspect that has received more attention is the deprivation of women’s rights. The transformation of the Taliban emirate into a legitimate government is said to be conditional on ensuring women’s rights and their access to decision-making positions, something that does not seem likely for the Taliban to adhere to: “Any formal reintegration of Afghanistan into global institutions and organizations requires the participation and leadership of women in this country.”
Even regarding the deprivation of women’s rights and freedoms, the tone of the report does not appear to be serious. The reality is that women and girls have not only been prevented from education but have been completely excluded from the public sphere. Nevertheless, the report states that alongside various segments of society, many representatives of the Taliban are calling for the lifting of restrictions against women and girls. The only clear thing that all the Taliban factions and members do have a common ground on, is restrictions on women. The occasional faint voices from within the Taliban advocating for women’s education do not necessarily indicate that this group values women’s education. If that were the case, a significant issue like women’s education, which has halted recognition of the Taliban completely, would become a hypercritical factor for divide within the group, which has not happened. The goal of these voices is to seduce the world into thinking that there are so-called pragmatic and moderate figures within the Taliban with whom one can engage, but this maneuver has proven to be somehow effective. The Taliban’s objective is international recognition without empowering the world’s desires.
The report emphasizes the urgent need for a careful solution to unlock Afghanistan’s frozen funds in foreign banks, without specifying any preconditions. Assuming that the blocked funds are released under current circumstances, it is certain that it will not benefit the people or the economy of the country, as the Taliban utilize these funds to bolster their military forces and build madrasas in remote districts and villages, causing more harm.
The so-called success of the Taliban in ensuring security and combating drugs is also mentioned in this report, contrary to daily evidence: “Security conditions within Afghanistan have improved, facilitating travel and transportation.” It is further emphasized, “Many international parties have affirmed the Taliban’s efforts in combating terrorism, especially against terrorist groups like ISIS Khorasan (IS-K).” However, the presence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Afghan soil is highlighted as a threat.
The reality is that Kabul and some other provinces bear witness to bloody events, undermining the Taliban’s slogans of providing security. These deadly attacks indicate particular motives rooted in religious and ethnic factors. Similarly, the prolonged and chronic issue of combating drugs in Afghanistan is not resolved by such optimism and hasty judgments.
Sinirlioğlu’s assessment weakness is influenced by the following factors:
- Sinirlioğlu represents the United Nations, and the organization’s approach toward the Taliban has been tinged with optimism for over two years. He was previously Turkey’s permanent representative to the UN from 2016 to 2023 and has a history of taking such positions. It is not the first time that UN representatives’ stance has generated controversy in justifying the Taliban’s behavior. A while ago, Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, had mentioned the possibility of formal recognition of the Taliban, sparking reactions that led to the exclusion of this issue from the agenda of a meeting held in May in Doha, the capital of Qatar, about Afghanistan. Moreover, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan’s (UNAMA) office has consistently faced significant criticism for its obeisance against the Taliban. The organization has failed to maintain a balance between the Taliban and forces opposed to this group. Meetings between the representatives of this organization and Taliban officials exceed those with women’s rights activists. Women protesters are detained, imprisoned, and tortured by Taliban forces, but the response of UNAMA has been summarized in a Facebook post so far. Markus Potzel, the Deputy Head of UNAMA, went to the extent of justifying the Taliban’s behavior, calling for the reopening of Western embassies in Kabul in an interview with a German media outlet last December, which stirred significant reactions: “My request is for Western countries to reopen their embassies in Afghanistan. When you are here, you can assess the situation better. Doing this from Doha or Berlin is difficult. Germany and other Western countries have interests in Afghanistan, and we should not forget that.”
- Turkey’s position towards the Taliban is also marked by optimism. The country’s embassy in Kabul remains open, and diplomats from the Taliban have been accepted. In a recent case, Mohammad Zubai Wadan, a Taliban diplomat, was accepted as the first assistant at the Afghan embassy in Ankara. Despite being under United Nations sanctions, Taliban officials have visited Turkey on several occasions. However, it is important to note that Turkey also hosts forces opposed to the Taliban. While Sinirlioğlu is a representative of the United Nations, he cannot remain unaffected by Turkey’s foreign policy towards the Taliban. More importantly, Turkey maintains a deep and friendly relationship with Pakistan, which influences its optimistic approach towards the Taliban.
- Sinirlioğlu has met with representatives of countries attempting to present an attractive and appealing image of the Taliban to the world. Qatar, Pakistan, and Iran are among the nations where Sinirlioğlu has held meetings and discussions with their authorities, carefully considering their recommendations. The positions of Pakistan and Qatar towards the Taliban are as clear as day: they spare no effort in supporting the Taliban. While the Islamic Republic of Iran appears to distance itself from the Taliban in public, it subtly seeks to maintain warm relations with them. Tehran endeavors to portray Afghanistan under Taliban control as less turbulent publicly, all the while managing its specific concerns and engaging with forces opposed to this group.
- Sinirlioğlu has traveled to Kabul twice, engaging in seemingly warm meetings and discussions with Taliban officials, especially Sirajuddin Haqqani, the acting head of the group’s Interior Ministry. Haqqani’s spokesperson even claimed, quoting Sinirlioğlu, that the global community is eager for warm interaction with the Taliban: “He feels that the global community is interested in improving interaction with the Islamic Emirate of the Taliban, but there are some concerns that should not be overlooked.” Sinirlioğlu has had fewer meetings with anti-Taliban forces, raising questions about the impartiality of the draft report. Although an image of Sinirlioğlu with Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan politician, surfaced, indicating a meeting in Turkey, it represents a minimal step. Nevertheless, a picture of Hekmat Khalil Karzai, the former political deputy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the previous government of Afghanistan, with Mr. Sinirlioğlu has been seen in Istanbul. Karzai does not represent the anti-Taliban resistance movement, and his perspective on the current situation in Afghanistan is unclear. It might have been appropriate for Sinirlioğlu to meet with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), the National Resistance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan, and other political addresses opposed to the Taliban, which he has not done.
Given the above points, it is evident that Sinirlioğlu’s assessment draft is influenced by the approach of the Taliban and countries with a favorable view toward them, and it is not biased toward imposing more sanctions and pressure on this group.
Strengths of the Report
If Sinirlioğlu and his colleague’s assessment has any strength, it can be summarized in two points:
- It emerges from the United Nations’ actions that a form of global consensus is taking shape or is in the process of forming to end the crisis in Afghanistan. Creating a global consensus and reconciling the conflicting interests of influential countries over Afghanistan’s fate shorten the lifespan of the Taliban regime. This group benefits from the prevailing tension in the international arena, especially in major crises such as Gaza and Ukraine. The global consensus does not desire a Taliban government in Afghanistan, and the Taliban, in turn, simply does not accept an all-inclusive government. As stated in the draft assessment: “To establish an all-inclusive government, sustainable peace, and social development in Afghanistan, there is a need to take steps towards national dialogue in this country.” In this case, the Taliban have two options: either comply with the world’s wishes or leave the field open for rival forces.
- What can firmly sustain this nascent consensus is the role of the United Nations as a mediator. In the current process, a specific country has not been assigned a particular role. For example, Qatar or the United Arab Emirates, which were active in the Afghan issue in the past, are absent from this process. The primary role falls on the United Nations, an institution trusted by both major and minor powers in some way. If the independent inspector’s assessment is endorsed by the Security Council, it may come into play unless the permanent members of this council vote otherwise, which is another discussion.
Naseer Ahmad Faiq, the chargé d’affaires of Afghanistan’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, who seemingly takes a strong stance against the Taliban, has welcomed the content of the report, considering it a comprehensive and inclusive proposal. It seems that the optimism expressed is influenced by a consensus centered around the United Nations.