Guterres convenes meeting in Doha to discuss key issues in Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO: U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres attends a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., April 27, 2023. Source: Reuters

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be in Doha, Qatar, on Monday to host a two-day meeting on Afghanistan, bringing together special envoys from various countries.

The aim is to reinvigorate international engagement around key issues, such as human rights, in particular women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive governance, countering terrorism and drug trafficking.

“The meeting is intended to achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to engage with the Taliban on these issues,” the UN said in a statement issued on Sunday.

The exact number of envoys expected to attend the closed-door two-day meeting in Doha, Qatar, is not known but some reports indicate at least 25 countries will be represented, however, the Taliban has not been invited.

UNAMA chief Roza Otunbayeva; US special envoy Tomas West; Russian special envoy Zamir Kabulov; China’s special envoy Yu Xia Yong; EU special envoy Tomas Niklasson; Uzbek special envoy Abdulaziz Kamilov; and Iranian special envoy Hassan Kazemi Qomi, are among the envoys expected to attend the Doha meeting.

Pakistan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar is attending the meeting of special envoys on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar, today, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

Hina Rabbani Khar will also hold bilateral meetings with leaders of other participating countries.

Chaired by the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, the meeting brings together major international and regional countries to discuss the ongoing situation in Afghanistan with a view towards constructive engagement, the statement said.

Hassan Kazemi Qomi, the special envoy of the Iranian president for Afghanistan affairs, has confirmed he will attend. He said in an interview with AVA that Tehran strongly criticizes “the unilateral approaches adopted by big powers and international organizations.”

Diplomats have meanwhile said that Guterres will give an update on a review of the UN’s critical relief operation in Afghanistan, ordered in April after the Taliban stopped local women from working for UN agencies.

The UN has said it faces an “appalling choice” over whether to maintain its huge operation in the country. On Thursday, UN Security Council member states united to condemn the curbs on women and girls in Afghanistan and urged all countries to seek “an urgent reversal” of the policies.

The Taliban’s foreign ministry rejected the call and said the ban “is an internal social matter of Afghanistan”.

However, Richard Gowan, UN expert for the International Crisis Group, an independent NGO, said, as quoted by AP, that the UN is “in a trap over Afghanistan”.

“Guterres has to untangle a very complicated knot. He needs to find a way to keep aid flowing into Afghanistan, but the Taliban ban on women is a huge blow to the UN’s ability to operate in the country.”

Gowan said the international community wants the UN to maintain its critical presence. “There are lots of differences among Security Council members over Afghanistan. But everyone, including Russia and China, agrees it is better to have the UN in Kabul than not.”

The United Nations has given few indications of what proposals could be made at the meeting but UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Friday the aim “is to reinvigorate international engagement around common objectives for a durable way forward on Afghanistan”.

The organization also wants “unity or commonality of message” on women’s and human rights, countering terrorism and drug trafficking.