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Afghanistan’s Taliban wants to address U.N. General Assembly

U.N. headquarters in New York.
A New York Fire Department employee passes outside the United Nations headquarters Tuesday.
(John Minchillo / Associated Press)

Who should represent Afghanistan at the United Nations this month? It’s a complex question with plenty of political implications.

The Taliban, which has ruled Afghanistan for a matter of weeks, is challenging the credentials of the country’s former U.N. ambassador and want to speak at the General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, the international body says.

The question facing U.N. officials comes just over a month after the Taliban, ejected from Afghanistan by the United States and its allies after 9/11, swept back into power as U.S. forces prepared to withdraw from the country at the end of August. The Taliban stunned the world by taking territory with surprising speed and little resistance from the U.S.-trained Afghan military. The Western-backed government collapsed Aug. 15.

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U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a communication Sept. 15 from the currently accredited Afghan Ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, with the list of the country’s delegation for the assembly’s 76th annual session.

Five days later, Guterres received another communication with the letterhead “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” signed by “Ameer Khan Muttaqi” as “Minister of Foreign Affairs,” requesting to participate in the U.N. gathering of world leaders.

Muttaqi said in the letter that former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani had been “ousted” as of Aug. 15 and that countries around the world “no longer recognize him as president,” and therefore Isaczai no longer represents Afghanistan, Dujarric said.

In Afghanistan, the Biden administration must figure out how to deal diplomatically and politically with what will be a Taliban-led government.

The Taliban said it was nominating a new U.N. permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the U.N. spokesman said. Shaheen has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.

Senior U.S. State Department officials said they were aware of the Taliban’s request — the United States is a member of the U.N. credentials committee — but would not predict how that panel might rule. However, one of the officials said the committee “would take some time to deliberate,” suggesting that the Taliban’s envoy would not be able to speak at the General Assembly at this session, at least during the high-level leaders’ week.

In cases of disputes over seats at the U.N., the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Both letters have been sent to the committee after consultations with the office of General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid. The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.

Female employees in Kabul city government run by the Taliban have been told to stay home unless their jobs cannot be filled by men.

Afghanistan is scheduled to give the last speech on Monday, the final day of the high-level meeting. It wasn’t clear who would speak if the Taliban were given Afghanistan’s seat.

When the Taliban ruled from 1996 to 2001, the U.N. refused to recognize the group’s government and instead gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous, warlord-dominated government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was killed by a suicide bomber in 2011. It was Rabbani’s government that brought Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of 9/11, to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.

The Taliban has said it wants international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country. But the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the U.N.: Several of the interim ministers are on the body’s so-called blacklist of international terrorists and funders of terrorism.

Credentials committee members could use Taliban recognition as leverage to press for a more inclusive government that guarantees human rights, especially for girls and women, who were barred from going to school or work during the group’s previous rule.

Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Matthew Lee in New York contributed to this report.


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