IN-DEPTH: What's Behind the UN Rhetoric of Recognizing Taliban?

Experts disagree about 'baby steps' to recognition

IN-DEPTH: What's Behind the UN Rhetoric of Recognizing Taliban?
File photo of the Taliban flag. (Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP via Getty Images)
Venus Upadhayaya
United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has said that the U.N. will consider recognizing the Taliban, as special envoys for Afghanistan sit for their first meeting with the U.N. Secretary-General in early May.

The envoys from various countries will meet with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on May 1 and 2 in Doha, Qatar, to work on a unified approach to dealing with the Taliban, Mohammed said on April 17.

“And out of that, we hope that we’ll find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition ... of the Taliban, a principled recognition,” Mohammed said.

A U.N. spokesman said on April 19 that the meeting aims to "reinvigorate the international engagement around the common objectives for a durable way forward on the situation in Afghanistan."

Experts allege the buzz about the upcoming meeting may be deliberate and could actually facilitate the Taliban's participation. They believe that U.N. recognition will not actually happen. However, there is concern that Taliban representatives may be invited to the Doha meeting. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the secretary-general, would not confirm that at the press conference on April 19.

"According to [the] U.N.'s spokesperson only state members can recognize the Taliban however, the U.N. as an organization can facilitate this and we know they have never been shy with their engagement with the Taliban," Homira Rezai, chair of the Hazara Committee in UK (HCUK), told The Epoch Times in a written reply.

HCUK was founded in answer to the treatment of the Hazari, Afghanistan's third largest ethnic group and a religious minority. However, the group works to address all human rights violations in Afghanistan with a focus on freedom of religion or belief for people of all ethnicities in the country.

"UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) provided training to Taliban members. And we also know that there is a huge possibility that the Taliban will be invited to the talk in May in Qatar. So, I think this is part of that facilitation," she said.

Ironically, Mohammed's statement came a few days after the U.N. mission to Afghanistan asked all its staff to stay home from work," for their own safety, especially for our female staff," according to U.N. spokesman Dujarric. The April 11 decision came after the Taliban told U.N. officials in early April that Afghan women would not be permitted to work for the U.N. office "with immediate effect."

'The Leverage We Have'

The deputy secretary-general made her statement while addressing a public gathering at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, saying she believed that recognizing the Taliban can help make them accountable. However, she expressed doubt that the recognition will be possible.

"Is it possible? I don't know. [But] that discussion has to happen. The Taliban clearly want recognition, and that’s the leverage we have,” said Mohammed.

Clare M. Lopez is a former career operations officer with the CIA and served as an expert witness in the 2011 case in which a New York judge found Iran and Hezbollah responsible together with al-Qaeda for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Lopez told The Epoch Times in an email that the U.N. has postponed earlier decisions to recognize the Taliban, and the current buzz about recognition is driven by geopolitics.

"There are concerns that the U.N. will not have the access it seeks to provide humanitarian aid to Afghans without formal recognition of the Taliban regime. [The] problem is that no one will be permitted to provide humanitarian or any other kind of aid to anyone in Afghanistan without the approval of the Taliban, with or without formal U.N. representation," said Lopez.

The number of Afghans in poverty nearly doubled after the Taliban took over, to almost 34 million, according to U.N. figures. The Taliban diktat banning female workers led to 3,300 Afghan U.N. staff—2,700 men and 600 women—being told to work from home. It further impacted "the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan, and the UN’s ability to support the population as they experience an unprecedented humanitarian crisis," said a U.N. press release.
 A woman looks at a picture of former Afghan lawmaker Mursal Nabizada on her mobile phone. Nabizada was shot dead by gunmen at her house in Kabul on Jan. 15, 2023. A member of parliament in the previous Western-backed regime, she was one of a few female government members who refused to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in August 2021. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman looks at a picture of former Afghan lawmaker Mursal Nabizada on her mobile phone. Nabizada was shot dead by gunmen at her house in Kabul on Jan. 15, 2023. A member of parliament in the previous Western-backed regime, she was one of a few female government members who refused to flee Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in August 2021. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

International Reaction

The United States has rejected any discussion on recognizing the Taliban.
“The intent and the purpose of this meeting was never to discuss recognition of the Taliban, and any discussion at this meeting about recognition would be unacceptable to us,” said U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Spoke­sperson Vedant Patel in a press briefing on April 20.

Mohammed's statements created shockwaves among U.S. lawmakers and Afghan activists from around the world. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho) a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the U.N. for even thinking about such a proposal.

“The U.N. needs a wake-up call. Any talk of recognition of the Taliban is absolutely absurd. This murderous regime continues to deny women the ability to work or go to school while millions of Afghans are in dire humanitarian need," Risch said in a message on Twitter on April 19.

Bilal Sarwary, a widely followed Afghan journalist, said that the situation is developing according to the Taliban's designs.

"This appears to be heading in the direction that the Taliban laid out when the group started banning women. Instead of using it as a leverage to pressure the group, the U.N. is using that leverage to facilitate recognition," Sarwary said in a message on Twitter on April 19.
Farhan Haq, U.N. Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, clarified on April 19 that "the Doha conference on 1 and 2 May is not focusing on recognition, and we don't want there to be any confusion about that."
Lopez said it seems that the clarification was intended to walk back Mohammed's earlier statement.

'No Recognition Anytime Soon'

In a Twitter response to the announcement of the Doha meeting, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said "I welcome this initiative."

Khalilzad said the "roadmap" discussed at the Doha meeting "must address the issue of women's education and employment," but opined, "to develop the road map, the Secretary-General and the Envoys should have a session with the Taliban during their deliberations."

Reacting to this statement, Lopez said: "Former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad continues to think that somehow the Taliban can be convinced to deny their Islamic faith and agree to discuss allowing women a status in education and employment equal to that of men. She stressed that the Taliban would never agree to such a thing, because it would be completely contrary to Islamic doctrine and law as derived from the Qur'an.

"[It] doesn't look like formal U.N. recognition will be happening any time soon," Lopez said.

HCUK's Rezai said she believes recognizing the Taliban would mean empowering them to impose further restrictions on women. Further, she said, it would lead to further violation of human rights overall.

"The world will see the worst atrocity potentially in the history of humanity as Taliban launch full-scale genocide against the Hazaras ... freedom of [religion] or belief will not exist," she said.

 Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of an explosion in front of a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 19, 2022<span class="_3_yxGICNhkrUIOBvfC0QEW">. </span>(Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo)
Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of an explosion in front of a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on April 19, 2022(Ebrahim Noroozi/AP Photo)

Geo-Political Agendas

Experts say the discussion about recognizing the Taliban is driven by geo-political agendas, and there are countries that are likely encouraging the rhetoric.

"The countries that are supporting the Taliban are China, Pakistan, Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan who have formally accredited diplomats appointed by the Taliban," said Rezai. "The agenda is driven by geopolitics with no regards to human rights."

She said that recently there have been many business deals between the Taliban and China, and expressed suspicion about a Chinese game plan behind the push for recognition.

"This could also be an attempt for China to control the spread of extremism in China by collaborating with Taliban (terrorists themselves). Especially with the new road they are making. The modern Silk Road as some call it," said Rezai.

OIC Keeps Quiet

Lopez noted that no statement on the matter has come from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the 57-member group of Islamic regimes that aims to be "the collective voice of the Muslim world," and of which Afghanistan is also a member.

"Its members have all pledged allegiance to the 1990 Cairo Declaration, under which the only human rights recognized are those granted under Islamic Law (shariah)," said Lopez.

"I do not see any recent official statement from the OIC about U.N. recognition for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but I would stay tuned to that organization for any such statement that may be forthcoming."

Lopez noted that although the U.N. itself does not have a single list of terror organizations, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1267, adopted in 1999, listed Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associates as terrorists and established a sanctions regime against them. Since that time, further resolutions have reaffirmed the original resolution.

Lopez said those around the world concerned that the Taliban's jihadist regime could one day be granted official U.N. recognition must make their voices heard by their government representatives.

They must "urge that no U.N. recognition be granted to a jihadist regime that supports terror and hosts on its territory Islamic terror organizations that are listed as such by countries all over the world," she said.

Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
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