UN-led meeting in Qatar with Afghan Taliban is not a recognition of their government, official says

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A United Nations-led meeting held in Qatar with the Taliban on increasing engagement with Afghanistan does not translate into a recognition of their government, a U.N. official said Monday.

The gathering on Sunday and Monday in Qatar’s capital of Doha with envoys from some two dozen countries was the first time that representatives of the Afghan Taliban administration attended such a U.N.-sponsored meeting.

The Taliban were not invited to the first meeting, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they set unacceptable conditions for attending the second one, in February, including demands that Afghan civil society members be excluded from the talks and that the Taliban be treated as the country’s legitimate rulers.

Ahead of Doha, representatives of Afghan women were excluded from attending, paving the way for the Taliban to send their envoys — though the organizers insisted that demands for women’s rights would be raised.

“I would like to emphasize that this meeting and this process of engagement does not mean normalization or recognition,” Rosemary A. DiCarlo, a U.N. official for political and peacebuilding affairs said Monday.

“My hope is that the constructive exchanges on the various issues over the last two days have moved us a little closer to resolving some of the problems that are having such a devastating impact on the Afghan people,” she added.

Zabihullah Mujahid, chief Taliban government spokesman who headed the delegation to Doha, said there was an opportunity for them to meet with representatives of various countries on the sidelines of the gathering.

He added that the messages from the Taliban “reached all participating” countries at the meeting. Afghanistan needs cooperation with the private sector and in the fight against drugs, he also said. “Most countries expressed their willingness to cooperate in these areas.”

The talks took place behind closed doors with no media access. But that didn’t stop the Taliban delegation from posting videos of the sessions on the social media platform X featuring their officials.

Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said the Taliban got what they wanted from the Doha gathering because they discussed the issues that mattered to them the most and the meeting excluded those they didn’t want at the table.

The talks also shielded the Taliban from much of the vitriol directed at the meeting, given that so much of the anger targeted the U.N. for excluding Afghan women, and not the Taliban for being there, he said.

“The Taliban played their cards well. Their conditions were met and they took full advantage with a major PR blitz targeting audiences at home and abroad.”

With images and interviews and statements, the Taliban projected the narrative of their officials engaging with the world and conveying the idea that the Taliban are not the pariahs their critics want them to be, he said.

Nobody from the Taliban delegation was immediately available for comment about the Doha talks, the most high-profile and high-level international meeting they’ve attended since seizing power in 2021.

No country officially recognizes the Taliban and the U.N. has said that recognition remains practically impossible while bans on female education and employment remain in place.

However, some participants, including Canada, expressed disappointment over the exclusion of women and civil society representatives.

“Canada is extremely disappointed that the U.N. organizers have excluded non-Taliban Afghan participants, including women’s advocates, religious and ethnic minorities, and human rights groups from participating in the meeting’s main sessions,” David Sproule, Canada’s special representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement.

DiCarlo, the U.N. official, said that “while women and civil society were not sitting across the table form the de facto (Taliban) authorities in last two days, we made their voices heard … civil society has a rightful role to play in shaping Afghanistan’s future.”

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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