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UN Meeting on Afghanistan Concluded in Doha, Without Much Progress

DOHA, QATAR – The UN-held meetings of special envoys on Afghanistan concluded on Monday evening after two days of discussions, without much progress. The Taliban had at the end refused to participate after the UN refused to not invite any other participant from Afghanistan. There were four representatives of the country’s civil society, three women and a journalist.

After two rounds of deliberations, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that he will initiate consultations for the appointment of a UN special envoy for Afghanistan, aimed at facilitating interactions with the Taliban and the international community.

Mr. Guterres said there was a consensus on the matter, a progress given that Russia and China had previously conditioned their support of the idea on buy-in from Taliban authorities in Kabul.

Participants of the meeting, however, say hurdles remain in the way of an envoy. Geopolitical tensions and regional groupings halted agreement on the job description of the envoy and the composition of a contact group that the Secretary General suggested.

He further emphasized the importance of maintaining the current format of UN meetings of special envoys on Afghanistan as a standing format, suggesting they convene more frequently, possibly at varying levels depending on the topic of discussion.

Hosted and chaired by the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, the two-day closed-door meeting of special envoys on Afghanistan kicked off in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on Sunday, February 18th.

This marked the second UN meeting on Afghanistan of its kind. Unlike the first meeting, which occurred without the participation of representatives from Afghan stakeholders, this meeting also included Afghan civil rights activists and representatives of Afghan women.

Despite being invited by the UN, the unrecognized Taliban regime refused to attend the conference after its demands to be recognized as the “sole official representative of Afghanistan” and to hold talks with the UN Secretary-General were rejected.

In a statement on Sunday, the Taliban Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that due to the nonacceptance of its demands, it did not consider participation in the Doha meeting to be fruitful, expressing anger over the invitation of representative Afghan civil society and women.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified to the UN that if the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] is to participate as the sole official representative of Afghanistan and if there exist an opportunity to hold frank talks between the Afghan delegation and the UN about all issues on a very senior level, then participation would be beneficial,” the ministry said.

When asked about the Taliban’s refusal to attend the meeting, the UN Chief replied that he had received a set of conditions from the Taliban, which denied him the right to engage with other representatives of Afghan society and demanded treatment akin to recognition to a large extent. However, he stressed that the meeting was “extremely useful” and that the absence of the Taliban had not impacted its effectiveness.

Meanwhile, Russia, the country that abstained from a Security Council vote on a resolution authorizing the Secretary-General to appoint a special envoy for Afghanistan, described the Taliban’s decision not to attend the Doha meeting as rational.

Furthermore, the Russian delegation, headed by its envoy on Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, also opted out of a scheduled meeting with representatives of Afghanistan’s civil society and women.

In a statement on the second day of the conference, the Russian embassy in Kabul expressed that the civil society representatives were not selected transparently and did not incorporate the Taliban’s view into the selection process.

The embassy pointed out that the Taliban has endorsed and accepted Russia’s decision to refrain from participating in the meeting.

The Iranian delegation also did not meet the civil society members. However, they reached out to them directly through an intermediary asking to meet separately out of the conference venue.

In the end, the meeting did not happen.