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The third Doha meeting continues the process of recognizing the Taliban regime

Talks about the third Doha conference are steeped in confusion. The confusions stem from the political expectations of the commentators and the reality of what will happen. Yet read its missives and it’s clear that the UN has provided ample information about its objectives of the third Doha meeting. The people of Afghanistan, especially politicians and civil society activists, expect this conference to be a continuation of the failed negotiations in 2021 that hastened the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the swift takeover by the Taliban. The  commentators believe that the international community has a responsibility to complete the Doha negotiations process and facilitate an inclusive government in Afghanistan. 

So, while opponents of the Taliban expect that the two main parties in the Doha negotiations will be them and the Taliban, the Taliban want to be treated as the main party and that the talks focus on the world community officially recognizing their Emirate. For this reason, the Taliban did not send a representative to the second Doha conference in February. The United Nations, which many believe is acting on behalf of the United States and NATO, says it wants this conference to provide a basis for “coordinated and systematic interaction between the international community with Afghanistan.”  In other words, America and its allies want to make sure the Taliban do not swing too far toward the rivals of America and NATO. 

The conflict over the goals for this meeting in Doha could explain why non-Taliban political forces are no longer expected to participate at the conference. But the UN through visits of its officials, along with the content and phrasing of its statements and speeches, has explained what the Third Doha Conference is all about. It would be unpalatable for Western opinions for America, NATO, and the United Nations to recognize the Taliban as the official government of Afghanistan. The memories of the long war on terrorism, whose casualties were celebrated as martyrs of liberty, justice, and democracy, are too fresh on people’s minds to publicly embrace those same former terrorists. 

While the topics of discussion have been outlined in recent weeks by the United Nations in a communique released on May 21 as well as the UN’s most recent quarterly report on the situation in Afghanistan, have outlined the points that are going to be discussed in the Doha meeting. More importantly, in these messages, the United Nations has made it clear what issues are now a priority for America and its allies. 

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Reviving diplomatic and official relations is a priority

In that one-page communique, the United Nations reveals that Rosemary DiCarlo, its under-secretary-general for political affairs, had gone to Afghanistan to invite the Taliban’s minister of foreign affairs to attend the third conference. DiCarlo is a veteran diplomat, and indeed in the capacity of senior UN official she also represents America. Her visit to Afghanistan to invite the Taliban to attend the Doha conference is the equivalent of the American top diplomat’s visit to Afghanistan. 

The second issue is the absence of any mention of the non-Taliban political forces in the statement. While there was a brief mention at the end of the statement to “the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, especially the restrictions on female education,” the focus was on getting the Taliban to Doha.  

Ahead of the second Doha meeting, the Taliban had laid out their preconditions for participation: First, high-ranking officials of the UN should negotiate with the Taliban; second, only the Taliban can represent the country, not civil society activists or non-Taliban political groups; third, education and human rights cannot be on the agenda as they are internal affairs; and fourth, the appointment of a special UN representative for Afghanistan should not be on the agenda, because the Taliban Emirate is the legitimate government. The Taliban wanted countries and international organizations to again appoint ambassadors and official representatives.  The UN rejected those preconditions and the Taliban did not attend the second Doha conference. 

Since then, the diplomatic ground has shifted. Between the second and third Doha conference, the two sides have reached an agreement and the US and its allies have accepted that the Taliban is the only party from Afghanistan to the talks, and there is no mention of the civil society organizations and the anti-Taliban political groups. The Taliban has also agreed to have its representatives meet with special representatives of Western governments.

In the communique, the United States and the United Nations has conveyed the message that it do not intend to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs, and that the main topic of the third Doha meeting is not human rights, education, and civil and political freedoms of Afghans, but rather that the “meeting aims to increase international engagement with Afghanistan [meaning the Taliban] in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner.” That a UN diplomat of DiCarlo’s importance would formally deliver the UN invitation to the Taliban to attend the meeting is a sign of the beginning of new interactions.

The last two paragraphs of the communique are decorative. It says, “Ms. DiCarlo discussed with interlocutors the various challenges Afghanistan is facing. During her visit, Afghan stakeholders urged that any strategy for international engagement give attention to the combined humanitarian, development and economic challenges facing Afghanistan.” Apparently, the dangers of drugs and terrorism have also been discussed. The communique ends with a short sentence, “The Under-Secretary-General discussed the situation of human rights in Afghanistan, especially the restrictions on female education.” This issue is deliberately mentioned at the end of the communique and in a very few words so that on the one hand the UN is doing its job and on the other hand it will not offend the Taliban.

The spirit of the communique is to appease the Taliban. There is no mention of the anti-Taliban political groups, civil society organizations, women’s rights activists, the protest movement, or armed opposition of the Taliban. The Taliban have been dealt with as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

The continuation of the competition for the ownership of the Taliban

Why do America and its allies give concessions to the Taliban? The short answer may be that the Taliban currently have territorial control of Afghanistan. Therefore, countries are willing to interact and negotiate with the Taliban for their own interests.

At the same time, America and its allies know that any delay in contact and cooperation with the Taliban will push the regime toward other actors in the region. In the new report from the secretary-general of the United Nations, the organization noted an increase in interaction between the Taliban and the regional opponents of the United States. An important part of the report is devoted to the follow-up of meetings and mutual contacts between the Taliban and regional governments and organizations. 

To better illustrate the struggle to own the Taliban, we have created a list of those meetings. This table shows the increasing contact of the Taliban with Russia, countries in Central Asia (Russia’s sphere of influence), and Iran. The frequency and level of meetings between the Taliban and the Russians or the Iranians are much more serious than other meetings. Russian representatives and delegations have met with Mullah Baradar, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Amir Khan Motaqi and other important Taliban officials. Russian representatives in the meeting with the Taliban are also important persons such as Putin’s advisor and his special representative for Afghanistan. Mullah Baradar, Motaqi and economic officials of the Taliban have also met and negotiated with Iranian officials.

The United Nations has also sent its high-ranking officials to Russia and Iran to discuss multilateral interactions with the Taliban. UNAMA’s observation of the Taliban’s increasing relations with the rivals of the U.S. could be a sign of America’s concern about the Taliban falling too far into the arms of Russia and Iran. It is not clear why the United Nations did not pay attention to the interaction between the Taliban and China in this report. Undoubtedly, in those three months, trade delegations and investment contracts have been exchanged between the Taliban and China. Perhaps the lack of strong political contacts between the Taliban and China has made the United States and its allies not to worry about the consequences of those contacts and not highlight them in the recent UN quarterly report. While Iran and Russia have long-standing and deep political deals with the Taliban and can offer an alternative to the Taliban’s relations with the West.

Regional Interactions with the Taliban

No.Interaction DateForeign Official/AgencyForeign GovernmentTaliban Side
1April 3Secretariat of the Security Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization member countriesKazakhstan (China, Russia, and other SCO members)Addressed to Taliban officials
2March 3-7Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of QatarQatarMullah Yaqoob, Taliban Minister of Defence
3February 25-28Rashid Meredov, Foreign Minister of TurkmenistanTurkmenistanAmir Khan Muttaqi, Taliban Foreign Minister
4March 16-20Head of Uzbekistan’s Islamic Affairs AdministrationUzbekistanNoor Mohammad Saqib, Taliban Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs
5May 4-5Organization of Islamic CooperationGambiaAbdul Qadeer Balkhi, Taliban Foreign Ministry Spokesman
6May 13-14Consultative Meeting of Islamic ScholarsTurkeyTaliban Minister of Hajj and Religious Affairs
7May 14-19Participation of Taliban officials in the 15th International Economic Forum named “Russia-Islamic World: Kazan Forum”RussiaNooruddin Azizi, Taliban Minister of Commerce
8February 10-12Ruslan Edelgeriev, Advisor to the President and Special Representative of the Presidency on Climate AffairsRussiaAbdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban Deputy Economic Chairman of the Council of Ministers
9April 19-23Tarek Ali Bakhit, Special Representative of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for AfghanistanOrganization of Islamic CooperationSeveral Deputy Ministers of the Taliban
10April 23Zamir Kabulov, Special Representative of the President of Russia for AfghanistanRussiaMuttaqi, Foreign Minister and Sirajuddin Haqqani, Taliban Interior Minister
11February 20Minister of Transport of UzbekistanUzbekistanHead of Taliban Railway Administration
12March 1-6Economic and Trade Officials of TurkmenistanTurkmenistanTaliban Minister of Commerce and a delegation of traders
13March 7Indian delegation led by J.P. Singh, Head of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Office for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran AffairsIndiaMuttaqi, Foreign Minister and Azizi, Taliban Minister of Commerce
14March 12Bakhtiar Saidov, Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan and his delegationUzbekistanMullah Hassan Akhund, Chairman of the Taliban Council of Ministers, Foreign and Interior Ministers, and other Taliban ministers
15March 28Signing of a trade and transit agreement with PakistanPakistanTaliban Ministry of Commerce and Industries
16March 12Transport Officials of UzbekistanUzbekistanHead of Taliban Railway Administration
17May 21Resumption of Turkish Airlines flightsTurkeyTaliban Administration
18February 22 – March 2Taliban economic delegation visited IranIranMembers of Mullah Baradar’s office
19March 13Alireza Mohajer, Deputy Minister of Agriculture of IranIranMeeting with Taliban officials in Kabul
20May 1-3Joint Economic Meeting on Transit Issues in ChabaharIranian trade and economic officialsTaliban Minister of Commerce
21Late AprilSerik Zhumangarin, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkmenistan and General Director of Transport and Communications, visited KabulTurkmenistanTaliban transport and trade officials
22April 15Opening of the Afghan-Kazakh joint Chamber of Commerce in HeratKazakhstanTaliban trade and economic officials
23April 26Two representatives of the (Turkmenistan?) government met with the Taliban Minister of Commerce and announced a plan to create a technical committee for trade and transit affairsTurkmenistan Taliban Minister of Commerce

UNAMA Leadership Visit to Russia, Iran, and India to Discuss Afghanistan Issues and Future Multilateral Interactions with Taliban Officials

No.Visit DateVisit DescriptionForeign GovernmentMeeting with Taliban Officials
1April 8-10Visit of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the Head of UNAMA to RussiaRussiaRussian Officials
2April 17-19Visit of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the Head of UNAMA to IndiaIndiaIndian Officials
3May 11-14Visit of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the Head of UNAMA to IranIranIranian Officials

Table: The quarterly report of the United Nations has highlighted the increase in Taliban interactions with Russia, Central Asia, and Iran. The chronological order of the meetings as published in the United Nations report is recreated in table format.

In the end, the third Doha conference is part of the competition between powers who want to control the Taliban, not an effort to facilitate the transfer of power to a responsible administration or to help the people of Afghanistan reduce their suffering or address the deprivation of their basic rights such as education, work, political organization, civic activity, or freedom of speech under the Taliban. 

It is the right of our people to expect the help of the international community in forming a national government and securing civil and political freedoms, but experience has shown that it is not a reasonable expectation. No one can do this except the people of Afghanistan. A people’s government should be formed by the nation, not by foreign governments and international organizations. Political and civil liberties are achieved by people through their struggles and efforts, not by foreign orders and programs. 

The experience of the 20 years between the two Taliban emirates has taught us that money, weapons and foreign diplomatic support are not enough to build a democratic government and save us from fundamentalism. The men and women of Afghanistan who want education, freedom and work for their children must rely on their strength and capacity to build a progressive society and government.

Younus Negah is a researcher and writer from Afghanistan who is currently in exile in Turkey.

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