Photo: UNAMA

UN Chief in Afghanistan Calls for More Dialogue with the Taliban

The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Roza Otunbayeva, called for more dialogue with the Taliban to address the mounting challenges Afghanistan faces. Briefing the UN Security Council on Wednesday, December 20, Otunbayeva said a durable international consensus on Afghanistan is needed to move beyond the current diplomatic impasse.

Last month, the U.N. Special Coordinator for Afghanistan, Feridun Sinirlioglu submitted his assessment that included recommendations on how the international community should interact with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Turkish diplomat was appointed in April by the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to propose recommendations on how the world should move forward in managing the crisis in Afghanistan.

Roza Otunbayeva said that Sinirlioglu’s assessment provides clarity on several issues, most importantly a “clearly-articulated endpoint” of an Afghan state fully reintegrated into the international system without enduring more violence and in compliance with international law. However, she emphasized that there is something in the report for each stakeholder to dislike. For instance, the Taliban considers the appointment of a special envoy as “unacceptable.”

The assessment received criticism from opposition groups to the Taliban and several political figures who accused it of attempting to “whitewash” the regime in Kabul. Ahmad Massoud, leader of the armed anti-Taliban group National Resistance Front (NRF), deemed the document “incomplete” and “weak,” emphasizing that supporting such an assessment could further deteriorate the country’s already dire situation. During the 11th Herat Security Dialogue, Afghanistan’s former national security advisor, Rangin Dadfar Spanta, said that the assessment presents a favorable image of the Taliban. “There was no need to whitewash the Taliban, especially when considering the implementation of the policy of gender apartheid among all those horrible and cruel policies,” he emphasized.

The head of UNAMA clarified that engaging in dialogue with the Taliban does not equate to legitimizing their rule. Instead, it can serve as a way to express disapproval and encourage change, she argued. She also called on the Taliban authorities to change their discriminatory policies and adhere to the international norms and standards that Afghanistan has ratified.

Otunbayeva’s call for dialogue with the Taliban comes just days after the UN Credentials Committee planned not to hand over Afghanistan’s permanent representative seat to the group. Moreover, the UN Security Council had previously extended sanctions on Taliban leaders, a move widely perceived as a firm diplomatic message to the regime ruling Afghanistan.

The US representative, Robert Wood also called on the Taliban to engage in dialogue with Afghan people and put an end to human rights abuses. He further appealed to the Security Council members to collectively exert pressure on the Taliban to reverse their destructive course.

Following the Taliban takeover, the US has been striving to maintain a diplomatic equilibrium with the regime. To exert pressure, the US has refrained from extending diplomatic recognition and traditional development aid, frozen Afghanistan’s central bank assets, and imposed sanctions on many Taliban leaders. However, the country remains the largest contributor to humanitarian aid and has refrained from supporting opposition groups against the Taliban.

Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the Security Council, who have also maintained diplomatic and trade relations with the Taliban have emphasized engaging with the regime in good faith and without preconditions. Both countries advocated for the removal of sanctions on the Taliban leaders and the unfreezing of Afghanistan’s central bank assets. China became the first country to formally accept the Taliban ambassador and sent its ambassador to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Furthermore, Chinese companies have recently signed significant oil and mineral deals with the Taliban.

The Taliban has yet to meet any of the UN’s conditions, and there is no indication of their willingness to do so. The majority of their leaders do not uphold human rights values, particularly those of women and girls, considering them Western concepts that conflict with their interpretation of Islamic values and Afghanistan culture. Additionally, they claim their regime is inclusive enough and deny the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan. Regardless of the UN’s emphasis on dialogue and imposition of sanctions on the Taliban, the regime has a free hand inside the country, allowing them to act with impunity.