EDITORIAL: Representatives from 25 countries among them Pakistan, the US, China, Russia and major European aid donors arrived in Doha on Monday for two- day closed- door talks called by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Afghanistan. But the party concerned, the Taliban, were “not invited because of opposition from Western countries.”
His office said the meeting was intended to achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to engage with the Taliban government on such important issues as women and girls rights, inclusive governance, countering terrorism, and drug trafficking.
The key issue of contention remains a slew of restrictions on women and girls, including slamming the door on education and employment in government departments.
In December last, the Taliban also banned women from working for non-governmental organisation, extending the ban in April to those employed by the UN agencies.
The UN mission in Afghanistan said it was faced with an “appalling choice” between staying and delivering for the Afghan people and upholding norms and principles it was duty-bound to uphold.
Some of its officials had advocated pulling out of the country, but had to stay on because of the prevailing humanitarian crisis.
According to UN food agency, six million Afghans are one step away from famine. But the Taliban remain adamant, refusing to ease curbs on women rights despite punishing international sanctions and the US withholding the country’s sovereign funds worth $ 7 billion – President Joe Biden has unfairly decided to keep half of the amount as reparations for the victims of 9/11 atrocity – seized from Afghanistan’s central bank following the Taliban takeover of the country. That has not helped the international community to achieve the desired outcome whereas seemingly intractable issues can be resolved through constructive engagement.
The Doha meeting without the Taliban’s participation can only be seen as an exercise in futility. However, a positive sign is the intention, as mentioned by the UN chief, to bring them on board at some point in the future.
Former US envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad also told journalists the Doha talks would produce a realistic roadmap for international engagement with Afghanistan. In similar vein, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammad said the Doha meeting could find ”baby steps” that lead to a “principled recognition” of the Taliban government, which the latter dearly wants.
However, a coalition of Afghan women’s group has reacted sharply to the suggestion, saying in an open letter to the Doha conference that they were “outraged” that any country would consider formal ties with the Kabul government that the UN calls “de facto authorities”.
Their outrage is perfectly understandable, but no one is ready to accord diplomatic recognition unless the Taliban change their ways. That may not be easy, but is worth an effort. The alternative to engagement is more of the same for women and a population on the brink of starvation.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2023