Delegate Warns Isolation Will Only Push Taliban into More Extreme Positions.
Spotlighting the Taliban’s continued suppression of media and civil society, the senior United Nations official in Afghanistan told the Security Council today that all Afghans must be represented and be able to participate in the country’s decision-making processes, underscoring that ongoing dialogue with the de facto authorities is needed to secure a better future for Afghans.
Roza Isakovna Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said what struck her most during her visit to many parts of the country was the misery of so many Afghans who live in great poverty and their uncertainty about the future. Detailing the de facto authorities’ suppression of media and civil society, she said the Taliban reject the need for any sort of intra-Afghan dialogue and claim that their Government is sufficiently representative.
“The only way forward for Afghanistan is through a more pluralistic polity, where all Afghans, especially women and minorities, see themselves represented and have a real voice in decision-making,” she said. Noting a slew of decrees that are especially harmful to women, she reported that women have been banned as of 9 November from visiting most public parks, bath houses and gymnasiums. The prevention of secondary education is extremely unpopular among Afghans and even within the Taliban leadership and has been criticized by the entire Islamic world. However, it remains in force causing damage today that will be felt long into the future, she warned.
“We do not see eye to eye with the Taliban on a number of issues, but the focus is, and should be, on maintaining a dialogue in the hope of a better future for Afghanistan, where everyone — women, men, girls and boys — can live a life with dignity and equality.” Affirming UNAMA’s commitment to that end, she warned that any positive economic developments might not be sustainable if the real concerns of Afghans, including the ban on girls’ education, lack of health facilities, mental health problems, poverty and economic insecurity, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, are not addressed.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said 97 per cent of Afghans live in poverty, two thirds of the population need humanitarian assistance and 20 million people face acute hunger. Half the population urgently needs access to clean water and sanitation, 1.1 million teenage girls are still banned from school and nearly 7 million Afghan nationals remain in neighbouring countries. The United Nations cash facility has brought in at least $1.8 billion in 2022 and the humanitarian exception adopted by resolution 2615 (2021) has played a critical facilitating role.
Ruchira Kamboj (India), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noting that 60 United Nations-sanctioned individuals occupy cabinet and senior positions in the Taliban Administration, said relations between the Taliban and Al-Qaida remain close. The Committee’s sanctions measures strive for a peaceful Afghanistan by deterring support to terrorist entities, she asserted, welcoming the decision of the Council to extend the mandate of the Committee and its Monitoring Team to oversee the implementation of sanctions measures and to support the peace and reconciliation process in the country.
Mahbouba Seraj, Afghan women human rights defender and Executive Director of the Afghan Women Skills Development Center, said women are literally being erased from public life, down to the beheading of female mannequins in shop windows. It has been over 700 days, and Afghan girls are yet to be permitted to return to school. Women must cover their faces when they go out in public, and they cannot go out without a male guardian. Moreover, women who used to be the sole breadwinners in their families cannot go to their offices or workplaces anymore. Sounding alarm over the dire economic and humanitarian situation in the country, she requested the Council to continue to provide life-saving aid to the people of Afghanistan.
In the ensuing debate, Council members united in their hopes for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan but continued to diverge on what should be the international community’s level of engagement with the Taliban, citing its failure to deliver on its commitments. Speakers expressed grave concern about the increasing restrictions on the rights of women and girls, the threat of terrorism and the dire humanitarian situation in the country.
Anniken Huitfeldt, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway, said her country has been sponsor of the Afghanistan file in the Council for the past two years and has been focused on strengthening international support for the Afghan people. Moreover, it has been at the forefront in arguing for continued contact with the Taliban, underlining that it is necessary to talk to those who are in power, but with eyes open and avoiding giving legitimacy to the Taliban. As instability in Afghanistan is a threat to international peace and security, the Council must remain united in support of the Afghan people.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, in a similar vein, said it is tempting for the international community to shut down engagement and isolate those in power given the latest developments and lack of response from the de facto authorities. However, isolation will only entrench positions and push the Taliban into more extreme positions. The situation of women and girls in Afghanistan “is continuing on a downward trajectory” and requires a decisive response from the Council, she stressed.
Kenya’s representative pointed out that Afghanistan continues to be a haven for terrorist groups, including Al-Qaida, whose affiliates such as Al-Shabaab have subjected millions of civilians in the Horn of Africa to untold fear and suffering. Thus, how the world responds to the situation in Afghanistan has direct ramifications on security in the Horn of Africa. If the Taliban expects to gain international recognition, it must secure sustained peace and security in Afghanistan and ensure that the country is not a haven for any terrorist groups.
The representative of the United States said his country remains steadfast in holding the Taliban accountable to their commitments to the Afghan people and the international community, including on counter-terrorism in alignment with the Doha Agreement. Moreover, the Taliban must allow safe passage and freedom of movement, make efforts to build an inclusive system that gives the people a voice in their political future and take responsibility for efforts aimed at supporting economic stability. The United States has provided more than $1.1 billion in humanitarian assistance since August 2021 and will continue to address the needs of vulnerable Afghans in the country and those who have fled to neighbouring countries.
The representative of the Russian Federation, countering that perspective, said Western colleagues, led by the United States, are passing the buck in blaming the Taliban for the current situation in Afghanistan. Efforts by the United States and other major donors to use Afghan funds as grounds for resolving issues is immoral, he said, calling for the immediate return of stolen funds to the Afghan people. To build lasting peace in the country, it remains imperative to continue pragmatic dialogue with the new authorities and patiently work with Afghans so they can create a State that is politically and ethnically inclusive, free of terrorism and narcotics, economically stable and developed, and that respects and protects the rights of all its citizens.
Representatives of neighbouring countries, including Iran, Kazakhstan and Pakistan then took the floor, with Uzbekistan’s representative proposing a high-level international negotiating group on settlement in Afghanistan. The group would provide a unique platform for dialogue, which conveys demands of the international community and serious concerns regarding the violation of international norms, with a view to helping the Taliban gradually normalize its relations with the world, he said.
Afghanistan’s representative said there is no hope for positive change and progress in the overall social, economic, security and political situation in his country due to the Taliban who have returned to the draconian, cruel and inhumane practices of their past rule. Respecting human rights and embracing the political, social and civil rights of all Afghans, including participation of women and girls in all facets of society, should be a non-negotiable prerequisite for any engagement. “It is time that the international community, regional countries, international donors and Afghans inside and abroad come together to resume political settlement talks,” he said, calling on the Council to unite and reach consensus to restore peace and stability in his country.
Also speaking today were representatives of Gabon, China, Brazil, Albania, Ireland, Mexico, United Kingdom, Ghana, France and India.
The representatives of the United States, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 10:37 a.m. and ended at 1:51 p.m.