Taliban unlikely to participate in UN General Assembly session

Published September 23, 2021
CHAMAN: With Afghan currency notes by their side, traders waiting for customers on Wednesday.—Reuters
CHAMAN: With Afghan currency notes by their side, traders waiting for customers on Wednesday.—Reuters

UNITED NATIONS: Afghanis­tan’s new Taliban rulers are unlikely to speak at or represent their country in the current session of the UN General Assembly, diplomatic sources told Dawn.

Representatives of the previous Afghan government still occupy the Afghan mission at the United Nations. On Tuesday, they attended the session that US President Joe Biden addressed.

“They will continue to occupy the mission until the credentials committee takes a decision,” a diplomatic source said.

On Sept 15, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres received a letter from the currently accredited Afghan ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, stating that he and other members of his team will represent Afghanistan in the UNGA session.

On Sept 20, the Taliban-controlled Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs also sent a communication to Mr Guterres, requesting to participate in the current UNGA. A Taliban leader, Ameer Khan Muttaqi, signed the letter as the new Afghan foreign minister.

Credentials committee to decide who will represent the country at UN

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed receiving both letters while talking to journalists in New York. Mr Muttaqi said in the letter that former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was “ousted” on Aug 15 and therefore his envoy no longer represents Afghanistan, Mr Dujarric said.

The Taliban, however, are unlikely to get the slot by Sept 27, when Afghanistan is scheduled to address the General Assembly.

The sources who spoke to Dawn said the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee, which makes such decisions, is unlikely to meet before Sept 27. And even if it did, it cannot settle the dispute in the remaining two or three days.

The sources, however, confirmed that the Secretary General’s office has sent both letters to the committee after consultations with General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid of Maldives. The current members of the committee include the United States, Russia, China, Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.

Diplomatic sources in Washington told Dawn that the United States was in no rush to endorse Taliban’s request for joining the UN as the legitimate Afghan government.

Speaking to various US media sources, senior US State Department officials said they were aware of the Taliban’s request but the deliberations “would take some time”, indicating that the Taliban representative would not address the UNGA on Sept 27.

One possibility, however, is not to allow Afghanistan’s current ambassador to address the gathering either because that would indicate support for the previous government, and would have wide-ranging repercussions.

But the former Afghan government still has support within the UN and apparently India is leading the campaign to let its envoy address the General Assembly.

Allowing a Taliban leader to address the General Assembly would be interpreted as the United Nations recognising the new arrangement in Kabul and the UN is not yet ready to do that.

When the Taliban last ruled from 1996 to 2001, the UN refused to recognise their government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The US media noted that this time the UN could be lenient to the Taliban but only if they form a more inclusive government, guarantee humans, allow girls to return to schools and women to go to work.

On Tuesday, the Emir of Qatar joined Pakistan in urging world leaders gathered at the United Nations not to turn their backs on the country’s Taliban rulers.

Qatar hosted the US-Taliban talks and is also playing a key role in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal.

Speaking from the podium of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani stressed “the necessity of continuing dialogue with Taliban because boycott only leads to polarization and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results”.

Published in Dawn, September 23rd, 2021

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