UN’s efforts to modernize the Taliban will fail

The United Nations is planning to organize an international meeting in Doha on May 1-2 to fix the situation with the Taliban and try to normalize the situation in Afghanistan. Despite some talks and rumors, the upcoming consultations will not be about the Taliban recognition but the bargaining. The international negotiators, mainly from Western powers and regional leaders like India are going to consequently push the Taliban to implement all demands from the UN and main powers in exchange for bank accounts defrosting and humanitarian add.

The meeting will be in a closed format, and the coverage of upcoming events by international media is quite contradictory and, in some ways, conflicting. Antonio Guterres, the U.N. Secretary General, stated that envoys for Afghanistan from different countries are developing a unified approach to interacting with the authorities of the banned Taliban movement. Amina Mohammed, the U.N. Deputy Secretary General, said that the meeting would help “find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition … of the Taliban, a principled recognition – in other words, there are conditions.” 

These statements caused an adverse reaction among some countries. The diplomats stressed the real goals of the upcoming meeting in Doha. “The intent and purpose of this meeting was never to discuss recognition of the Taliban, and any discussion at the meeting about recognition would be unacceptable,” said a U.S. official, speaking anonymously. The first deputy official representative of the U.S. State Department, Vedant Patel, said: “The intent of — the purpose of this meeting was never to discuss recognition of the Taliban, and any discussion at this meeting about recognition would be unacceptable to us.” 

Farhan Haq, a U.N. representative, said discussions at the Doha meeting would not focus on recognition of the Taliban. “The point of the discussion, which will be held in a closed, private setting, is to build a more unified consensus on the challenges at hand,” Haq said. “There’s a need to reinvigorate international engagement around the sort of common objectives that the international community has on Afghanistan. We consider it a priority to advance an approach based on pragmatism and principles to have a constructive engagement on the issue,” he said. 

Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, distinguished by incompetence and lack of knowledge of international law, expressed his opinion that the recognition of the Taliban is not the purpose of the meeting, but rather “be looking for the opinions of those special envoys on how they see the way out for Afghanistan.” This statement is interesting because Moscow was previously one of the most central supporters of the Taliban movement. Acting in it’s own national interests, the Russian government irrationally supported radical movements and emphasized the” anti-colonial and freedom-loving nature of their struggle.”

The decision to recognize the legitimacy of the Taliban regime has been postponed twice by the U.N. General Assembly, the last time it happened in December. Now Afghanistan is represented by diplomats from the old government of Ashraf Ghani. The U.N. representative at that time, Stephane Dujarric, briefed reporters that the meeting in the capital of Qatar would aim to “reinvigorate the international engagement around common objectives for a durable way forward on … Afghanistan”. Thus, it can be concluded prematurely that no serious discussion on the recognition of the Taliban movement is expected yet.

Significant international events require a well-prepared and appropriate environment. Currently, the “Taliban” movement has failed to demonstrate its readiness to join the international community. Afghanistan, under the rule of the Taliban, continues to be in deep crisis. The situation with poverty has worsened twice. The number of Afghan citizens living below the poverty line has doubled to 34 million since the country was racked by the collapse of the US-backed government and the seizure of power by the Taliban, the U.N. reported. Also, on Tuesday, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published data on which 34 million Afghans lived below the poverty line in 2022.

Earlier this month, the Taliban began enforcing a ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations after stopping most women from working for humanitarian aid groups in December. After overthrowing Western-backed governments, the Taliban tightened controls on women’s access to public life, banned women from attending universities, and closed most girls’ secondary schools.

Despite this, international players do not give up trying to transform the Taliban movement. Indian diplomas have carried out measures to organize vital programs to modernize and prepare the Taliban for important modern activities. On March 14, the four-day virtual course “Immersing with Indian Thoughts” began. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India organized this course through the Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Program, a bilateral assistance program of the Government of India.

The day before, the leader of the Taliban movement, Mullah Akhundzada, issued several edicts banning girls’ education after the sixth grade and banning most Afghan women from participating in public life and working throughout the country. Despite sharp global criticism and demands to end restrictions on women, a ban on non-governmental organizations and the United Nations has recently been extended,

At the start of the three-day holiday of Eid al-Fitr, timed to the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan, Hibatullah Akhundzada addressed the faithful in a mosque in Kandahar. The Taliban leader welcomed the creation of an Islamic government “based on Sharia” in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained power in August 2021. “It is the success and good fortune of the Afghan nation that Allah has blessed them with an Islamic Sharia system,” he said. “I have promised Allah that so long as I am alive, not a single law of infidelity will find a place in Afghanistan.”

So there is no reason to believe that, in the current conditions, recognition of the Taliban movement is real. The leadership of the radical movement demonstrates a lack of readiness for a significant transformation of the structure of society in Afghanistan. The Taliban are still convinced that they can stay in power with the support of supporters from the military leadership of Pakistan and not implement reforms. Therefore, we have no assumptions that recognition can improve the situation in Afghanistan. Moreover, today it will be counterproductive and give legitimacy to the radicals.

Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatrian
Georgi Asatryan, associate professor, Lomonosov Moscow State University and Plekhanov Russian University of Economics.