KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman said on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.

This will mark the first time the de facto Afghan rulers will attend a gathering of international envoys on Afghanistan since UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had started the process in May 2023, aimed at developing a coherent and unified world approach to engagement with the Taliban.

The Taliban government’s participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first round and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.

“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” said Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid.

Aid, investment among issues on agenda of UN moot on Afghanistan, Zabihullah Mujahid says

The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1, and have already been criticised by women’s groups.

The Taliban spokesperson told Afghan media on Sunday that a delegation — yet to be announced — would attend because the talks’ agenda appeared “beneficial to Afghanistan”. The agenda includes “topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan, which are important”, he said.

Calls to prioritise women

Civil society groups that included women were invited to the February talks, but the Taliban government refused to participate unless its members could be the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

In recent weeks, multiple UN representatives and international envoys have held meetings with the Taliban government on the next Doha talks, which Guterres will not attend.

Diplomatic sources told AFP there were plans to consult with Afghan civil society groups before and after the next talks, but that they would not take part in meetings that include the Taliban authorities.

Sources said the official meetings were due to cover economic issues, as well as counter-narcotics efforts.

Several civil society groups have urged the UN to prioritise women’s rights and include Afghan women.

“The world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country,” Afghan women’s rights activist Hoda Khamosh, now based in Norway, said.

“Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognise them.”

The Taliban government has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid”.

Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women’s Rights Director Heather Barr said the Taliban should not have been allowed to make demands on the conditions of the meetings considering their policies targeting women.

“It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participants in the discussion,” she told AFP.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, extended Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi an invitation to the talks during a visit to Afghanistan in May.

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2024

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