US special envoy on tri-nation visit to tackle Afghanistan ‘challenges’

Washington’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West has embarked on a tri-nation visit where he will meet with partners, Afghans and humanitarian aid agencies to discuss the challenging situation in Afghanistan. 

According to a statement issued by the US State Department on Sunday, West will visit Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland from January 29 to February 4.

“The Taliban’s recent edicts have presented the international community with extraordinary challenges as we seek to support the Afghan people and protect our interests,” the State Department said.

“West will work with counterparts to refine a unified regional and international response that reflects a collective commitment to Afghan women and girls’ rights and access to vital aid,” the statement noted.

West meanwhile tweeted early Monday: “I will travel to Pakistan, Germany, and Switzerland Jan 29-Feb 4 to consult with partners, Afghans, and humanitarian relief organizations regarding extraordinary challenges we face in supporting the Afghan people.

“Must refine a unified way ahead that supports Afghan women and girls’ access to vital aid and fundamental rights,” he said.

This comes after the Taliban issued its latest decree against women Saturday, ordering all universities to bar female students from taking next month’s university entrance examinations. 

In December, the ministry told universities not to allow female students to continue with their studies “until further notice”. Just four days after issuing this order, the Taliban stopped women from working for NGOs.

The decrees against women, which officials around the world have said are “erasing women from society”, have drawn widespread condemnation.

In response to the decrees, the UN’s deputy secretary general led a high ranking delegation to Afghanistan earlier this month where she met with a number of Taliban officials to discuss the deteriorating situation. 

The UN’s deputy chief Amina Mohammad, and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous met with Taliban officials in Kabul and Kandahar and attempted to get them to overturn some of the restrictions, especially the ban on women working.

However, speaking after her visit, Mohammad said the Taliban was mostly concerned about the world not having recognized the group as the legitimate government and that they were not represented in the UN.

At a press conference after wrapping up her trip, Mohammad said the delegation “met with three, four ministers, from the foreign minister to the agricultural minister to the refugees and repatriation and also the deputy prime minister.

“We moved on to Kandahar. We met with the Shura, the Ulema that gives the edicts, the laws that pass through. And we met with the governor’s office, the deputy governor and his cabinet.

“In the case of the engagement with the Taliban, their messages were off one script – all the things they say they have done and that have not got recognition for. We reminded them that even in the case where they talked about the rights, edicts that they had promulgated for protecting women, they were giving rights with the one hand and taking away with the other, and that was not acceptable.”The Taliban however failed to overturn its earlier decrees following Mohammed’s pleas and instead issued another one on Saturday – prohibiting girls from taking the university entrance exam.