Qureshi, Blinken hold first meeting with Afghanistan in focus

Published September 23, 2021
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday. — Photo courtesy Shah Mahmood Qureshi Twitter
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi (L) meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday. — Photo courtesy Shah Mahmood Qureshi Twitter

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi finally met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York on Thursday on the sidelines of the 76th United Nations General Assembly session.

The meeting, which lasted almost an hour, began at 1pm New York time at the Palace Hotel in New York City, according to Blinken’s schedule on the website of the US Department of State. This is the first meeting between the two top diplomats with Afghanistan expected to be in focus.

Both US and Pakistan said they will issue statements on the meeting later in the day. Blinken is also scheduled to give a press briefing at 4:45pm local time.

Following the meeting, Qureshi said he had reiterated Pakistan's focus on a relationship with the US based on trade, investment, energy and regional connectivity.

Regarding Afghanistan, the foreign minister stressed Pakistan's commitment to an inclusive political settlement. He also emphasised the importance of the international community holding the Taliban to their commitments and recognise its moral obligation to help the Afghan people with the growing humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.

“The world should not repeat the mistake of disengaging with Afghanistan,” he stressed.

Pakistan has long desired high-level contacts with the US leadership, particularly after the collapse of the US-backed government in Kabul.

Qureshi, who is in New York to attend the UN General Assembly session, has held a series of bilateral meetings with his counterparts from around the world. He used his meetings and other engagements to urge world leaders to stay engaged with Afghanistan’s new rulers.

He was expected to make the same argument in his meeting with Secretary Blinken as well. Pakistan, however, has not yet publicly backed the Taliban’s call for a seat in the UN General Assembly.

By Thursday, it was obvious that Afghanistan’s new rulers are unlikely to speak at or represent their country in the current session of the UN General Assembly,

Taliban's participation in UNGA

Representatives of the previous Afghan government, which collapsed last month when the Taliban captured Kabul, 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 told Dawn.

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 at the 76th UNGA.

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

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

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

Diplomatic 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 had 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, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.

Diplomatic sources in Washington told Dawn that the United States was in no rush to endorse the Taliban’s request for joining the United Nations 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 human rights, allow girls to return to schools and women to go to work.

Read: Taliban expand interim cabinet, double down on all-male team

Qatar stresses necessity of engaging with Taliban

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 polarisation and reactions, whereas dialogue could bring in positive results”.

Qureshi has also warned that isolating the Taliban could have dangerous consequences for the entire region.

“If the international community disengages, if you do not deal with the immediate humanitarian crisis, if you let the Afghan economy collapse, if you continue freezing the Afghan money, then you will be creating space for those elements that we correctly agreed to fight and defeat,” he said.

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