U.N. excludes civil society, accommodates Taliban demands at third Doha meeting

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Jessica Ludwig
Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute
Afghan women, who have seen their rights diminish day by day, demonstrate in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 13, 2022. Photo by Oriane Zerah/Abaca/Sipa USA(Sipa via AP Images)

Taliban representatives met exclusively with special envoys from more than two dozen countries and five regional organizations at a meeting on Afghanistan convened by the United Nations in Doha, Qatar June 30-July 1.  

Why this matters 

Afghan women and civil society representatives were noticeably absent from the official meeting proceedings in a move by the U.N. to accommodate Taliban demands.  

The third instance of U.N.-held talks, the Taliban previously refused to attend the second convening held in February 2024. 

At the Taliban’s request, the meeting agenda was also limited to a narrow set of topics around Afghanistan’s private sector and efforts to counter narcotics. It was not until the day after the official talks concluded that eight Afghans “representing themselves” were given an opportunity to share their perspectives during an unofficial session, for which nearly half of the special envoys had conveniently departed the country. 

U.N. Undersecretary for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo insisted that this third meeting “was part of a process” and did not constitute formal recognition of the Taliban or normalized relations with the group. But she also acknowledged during remarks to media that recognition is a decision for member states. The posture of different countries toward the Taliban varies widely in practice, as many international actors see strategic advantages to deepening their engagement with the Taliban. For example, China has gone so far as appointing an ambassador to Kabul and accrediting a Taliban ambassador in Beijing. Moscow has sponsored travel for numerous Taliban leaders, including several under U.N. sanctions, to attend meetings in Russia. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban took full advantage of the propaganda opportunity afforded by sharing their own interpretation of the meeting. The Taliban’s head of delegation to Doha, spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid, falsely declared in statements on the social media platform X that the international community had pledged that restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking and economic sector should be lifted and claimed “the world has also reached a decision that instead of cutting ties and separating, they should establish close relations with Afghanistan, and economic and humanitarian issues should be separated from political issues.” 

The Taliban also gleefully used the opportunity to again hold human rights hostage, citing during a press conference that women’s rights are an “internal matter.” Meanwhile, it has been over 1,000 days since girls above the sixth grade have been permitted to attend school in Afghanistan.   

Bottom line 

After releasing a detailed report in June that documented an uptick in the systematic persecution of women and girls that “should shock the conscience of humanity,” U.N. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett criticized the third Doha meeting, writing in an op-ed that “It is a mistake to measure the success of this meeting by whether the Taliban show up.”  

Bringing the Taliban to the table while leaving Afghan women and other diverse voices out of the conversation in Doha was a dangerous move that demonstrated the international community’s weakening resolve to hold the Taliban accountable. It also demonstrated, yet again, an increasingly concerning trend to placate the Taliban and their unrelenting quest for legitimacy and recognition.