Photo: Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Editorial: The UN cannot help the people of Afghanistan without repairing its tarnished reputation

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, is to host a meeting on Afghanistan on 1st and 2nd May in the Qatari capital, Doha. The meeting’s objective, according to Guterres’s spokesperson, is to find a “common objectives for a durable way forward on … Afghanistan.”

The plan for the meeting was first revealed by António Guterres’s deputy, Amina Mohammed, during a discussion at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, on Monday 17 April, in which she told the audience that the plan was to bring together “envoys across the board”.

Amina Mohammed further added that “we hope that we’ll find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition [of the Taliban].”

Mohammed’s comments on the possibility of the Doha meeting becoming the venue to Taliban recognition ignited a backlash from many inside and outside Afghanistan. She was widely condemned. 

The US State Department said that any discussion of the recognising the Taliban was “unacceptable to us”. International human rights organisations came together and in a joint letter, urged the UN chief to prioritise human rights before Taliban recognition.

Exiled political figures, including the former spy chief, Rahmatullah Nabil and the head of foreign relations for the armed anti-Taliban group, the National Resistance Front (NRF), accused Amina Mohammed of betraying women and girls in Afghanistan. 

And in an open letter to the UN chief, a group of activists, intellectuals, and former public officials, including Shahrzad Akbar, the former head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, Nahid Fareed, former member of Afghanistan Parliament, warned against any steps to recognise the Taliban. Amina Mohammed, the signatories said, had “disrespected the sacrifices of the people of Afghanistan, especially its women, who are at the forefront of resisting a totalitarian regime.”

Shahrzad Akbar told KabulNow that:
“There is growing frustration & even disillusionment in Afghanistan’s human rights community both inside & outside the country with the UN’s lack of leadership and concrete action on human rights. Recently, we have been receiving mixed public messaging from top UN officials on Afghanistan adding to the frustration and mistrust. It is time for the UN to listen to the community & illustrate in action its commitment to human rights.”

Shahrzad’s comment encapsulates the frustrations and cynicism of many toward the UN and the way it has handled and dealt with the Afghanistan conflict. There seem to be little trust in the UN from the people of Afghanistan and its motives. 

For the UN to be effective in helping the people of Afghanistan, it must first repair its tarnished reputation. It must be open and transparent on its motives and dealings with the Taliban. It must open itself up to hearing the voices of the people of Afghanistan and those worst affected the Taliban’s rule. 

Through its actions, the Taliban has shown a total disregard for the UN and its work in the country. The group is well aware of the organisation’s unwillingness to move beyond rhetoric and platitudes and has exploited it maximally. Amina Mohammed herself was insulted out of Afghanistan during her visit to Kabul in January, as she tried to convince the group lift restrictions on women.

Whatever the outcome of the Doha meeting, without the UN becoming a trustworthy actor in the Afghanistan conflict, things can only get worse, not better.