UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

UN Chief to Host High Level Meeting on Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN–The United Nations says its Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, will host a group of senior diplomats from various countries to discuss the crisis in Afghanistan. The meeting is set for February 18 and 19. The meeting will be held in Doha, the gulf city that has become the center of diplomatic efforts since the Western-backed republican government collapsed in Afghanistan.

During a press briefing on Thursday, January 25, the UN spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, said that the purpose of the two days meeting is to discuss strategies for enhancing international engagement in a more cohesive, coordinated, and structured manner. This, he said, includes evaluating the recommendations put forth by the independent assessment on Afghanistan.

On December 27, 2023, the UN Security Council in its last meeting for the year adopted a resolution calling on the Secretary General to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan. The resolution followed the recommendations made earlier by an assessment conducted under the leadership of the UN Special Coordinator Feridun Sinirlioglou.

Although Dujarric did not provide information about the details of the meeting, it will be the second of its kind. Mr. Guterres gathered a group of special envoys on Afghanistan, diplomats focused on how their respective countries can deal with the situation in the country, in May 2023. Participants included Russia, the UK, Norway, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan, China, the USA, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, France, Japan, as well as representatives from the EU and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Many of these countries also have active ambassadors or charge d’affaires for Afghanistan.

It is expected that the meeting in Doha will give the mandate to the UN special envoy, whoever she might be. There is a recognition that the appointment of a UN diplomat will prove more difficult in this case than the world body is normally used to, particularly because of the geopolitical rivalries and tensions.

At the UNSC meeting in December where the resolution was adopted, Russia and and China abstained from voting and tacitly conditioned their blessing of any UN action in Afghanistan on approval from and engagement with the Taliban, the group who have been ruling Afghanistan since August 2021.

The unrecognized regime in Kabul welcomed the attempt of “more rebuts and enhanced engagement” with the UN. However, it opposed the appointment of a new special envoy as “unnecessary” emphasizing that special envoys “throughout contemporary history of Afghanistan & the world have not only failed to resolve any conflicts, but have complicated situations further via imposition of external solutions.”

Ahead of the meeting, both the Taliban and the Afghan political factions opposing it have requested the inclusion of their representative in the gathering. The Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid said “any meeting which is being held regarding Afghanistan, the presence of the representatives of the Islamic Emirate is needed. If the representatives of the Islamic Emirate are not present, the meeting will undoubtedly not be effective.”

Earlier, the National Resistance Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan, comprised of political figures who are in exile since the Taliban takeover, called upon the UN to include representatives from the council, women, media, and human rights activists in the meeting. “We believe that, in addition to inviting political figures to such meetings, the inclusion of genuine representatives from civil society, women activists—particularly those representing female protesters—media professionals, and human rights activists is crucial,” the council stated. 

Heather Barr, the Associate Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), also called on the UN to include Afghan women in the upcoming envoy meeting.

The divisions between various stakeholders is already apparent ahead of the meetings in Doha. Next week, the Taliban will host a regional meeting in Kabul in which representatives from China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan will participate.

Although the agenda for the next meeting is not clear, Sayed Rasul Musavi, special assistant to the Iranian Foreign Minister wrote on X that the meeting in Kabul is a sign of the region’s attention to “peace and prosperity for the people of Afghanistan and regional security.”

Zamir Kabulov, the Russian Special Envoy for Afghanistan had said earlier that working with the Taliban to “form an inclusive government, counter-terrorism, and drug trafficking” will be priorities in Russian engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbors.