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UN Excludes Taliban from Afghanistan Crisis Discussions in Qatar Amidst Ongoing Talks

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The United Nations holds an emergency meeting on Afghanistan in Qatar, but decided to exclude the ruling Taliban.

United Nations-led talks on how to engage and pressure Afghanistan’s rulers to ease bans on women working and going to schools began in Doha on Monday.

Envoys from the United States, China and Russia, as well as major European donors and key neighbors like Pakistan, are among representatives from some 25 countries and groups called by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres over two days.

However, the Taliban government was not invited, and prior to the meeting, the issue of recognition of the administration loomed large.

A small group of Afghan women held a protest march over the weekend in Kabul to oppose any moves to recognize the rulers who returned to power in August 2021.

In an open letter to the Doha meeting released on Sunday, a coalition of Afghan women’s groups said they were “outraged” that any country might consider formal ties because of the government’s record that its handling of women’s rights is an “internal social issue.”

The United Nations and the United States have insisted that recognition is not on the agenda.

Rights groups’ concerns have been stoked by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, who said last month that the Doha meeting could find “small steps” leading to “principled recognition” of the Taliban government.

The United Nations said the comments had been misinterpreted. No country has formal relations with the Taliban administration and UN membership can only be decided upon by the UN General Assembly.

Before arriving in Doha, Guterres’ office said the meeting “aims to achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to deal with the Taliban” on women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive governance, and combating terrorism and drug trafficking.

The UN dilemma

US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said last week that “any kind of recognition of the Taliban is completely off the table.”

Since toppling a foreign-backed government in 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed a hardline version of religious law that the United Nations has called “gender apartheid”.

Women were barred from most secondary education and university, and prevented from working in most government jobs as well as UN agencies and NGOs.

Although divided over many controversies, UN Security Council authorities came together on Thursday to condemn restrictions on Afghan women and girls and urge all countries to seek an “urgent rollback” of these policies.

Diplomats and observers say the Doha meeting highlights the dilemma the international community faces in dealing with Afghanistan, which the United Nations considers its biggest humanitarian crisis and where millions depend on food aid.

Amina Muhammad said it was “clear” that the Taliban authorities wanted to recognize her. Formal relations with the United Nations will help the government recover billions of dollars in badly needed money confiscated abroad after it took power.

But diplomats from several countries participating in the Doha talks said this would not be possible until there was a change in women’s rights. Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said after last week’s UN vote that “diversity must be respected and not politicised”.

Diplomats said the secretary-general would provide the Doha meeting with an update on a review of the international organization’s critical relief operation in Afghanistan, which it ordered in April after authorities barred Afghan women from working with UN agencies.

The United Nations said it faced an “apocalyptic choice” over whether to continue its massive operation in the country of 38 million people. The review is due to be completed on Friday.

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