Afghanistan’s Representation Uncertain as UN General Assembly Session Begins

By Patrick Goodenough | September 15, 2021 | 4:37am EDT
It remains to be seen who will represent Afghanistan at the U.N. now that the Taliban has ousted the elected government by force. (Photo: UN Photo/Manuel Elías)
It remains to be seen who will represent Afghanistan at the U.N. now that the Taliban has ousted the elected government by force. (Photo: UN Photo/Manuel Elías)

( – As the U.N. General Assembly formally opened its new annual session in New York on Tuesday, the question of how the world body deals with the Taliban regime that seized power in Afghanistan remains unresolved.

According to the latest update of the list of speakers for the high-level segment which begins next Tuesday, the delegation from Afghanistan is scheduled to speak on September 27.

But the current U.N. protocol list of heads of state, dated Tuesday, still names Ashraf Ghani – who fled the country ahead of the Taliban advance on Kabul last month – as president. Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai, appointed by the Ghani government last summer, remains in place.

The incoming president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid of the Maldives, has appointed a “credentials committee,” in line with U.N. procedures, to examine questions relating to member states’ credentials.  Afghanistan, Burma and Guinea have all undergone unconstitutional seizures of power this year.

Shahid during a press briefing on Tuesday declined to comment on the credential committee’s procedures or expected challenges to be raised.

“They will meet soon,” he confirmed. “Of course the purpose of the committee is to try and resolve any issues that may come up and I will not prejudge the work that the committee will do.”

After Ghani fled, his vice president Amrullah Saleh declared himself caretaker president, in line with the national constitution. He is associated with the Ahmad Massoud-led National Resistance Front (NRF), which is urging the international community not to recognize the Taliban regime.

“This is a decision that the international community has to make,” NRF head of foreign relations Ali Maisam Nazary said during a Heritage Foundation event late last week.

“They’re either going to recognize a terrorist organization, a drug cartel, as Afghanistan’s government, or they’re going to support the will of the people of Afghanistan, which is the continuation of the democratic government, inclusive government, made up of different ethnic and sectarian groups, representing Afghanistan.”

Sanctions blacklist

After the Taliban’s previous violent takeover of most of Afghanistan in 1996, U.N. credentials committees repeatedly deferred a decision on the country’s representation, rather than side with either the Taliban or the government it ousted, led by President Berhanuddin Rabbani.

The deferrals had the effect of maintaining the status quo, so the Afghanistan seat continued to be occupied by the representative of the ousted Rabbani government, which as the Northern Alliance controlled only a small portion of the country.

Until toppled by U.S.-led forces after 9/11, the previous iteration of the Taliban regime was recognized as the legitimate government by only three countries, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

This time no government has rushed to recognize the “interim” regime announced last week, although many are engaging with it at various levels.

Adding to the complications facing the U.N. this time is the fact that of 33 members of the regime named last week, at least 17 are on the U.N. Security Council consolidated list of sanctioned terrorists, and under the relevant resolution are subject to an assets freeze and travel ban.

They include all of the top positions – prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, ministers of foreign affairs, defense, interior, finance, and energy, among others.

One of them, Taliban foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, during a press conference on Tuesday called on the U.N. to remove the ministers from its sanctions list, saying that it had “no logic.”

The Taliban has accused the U.S. of breaching the February 2020 Doha agreement with the Taliban by not facilitating the lifting of the sanctions.

But while the U.S. in the accord did commit to taking that step, it was linked to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations, which under the agreement were meant to deliver “a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire” and “agreement over the future political roadmap of Afghanistan” – conditions plainly violated by the Taliban.

The Taliban itself is a terrorist organization’

Senior U.N. officials are engaging with sanctioned Taliban officials as they seek to deal with the humanitarian fallout of the crisis.

In Kabul on Tuesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi met with Taliban minister for refugees Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani, who in addition to being on the U.N. sanctions list is a U.S. government-designated global terrorist, with a reward of $5 million offered for information helping to bring him to justice.

(Khalil ul Rahman Haqqani is a senior figure in the Haqqani Network, a Taliban affiliate that is a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. He is the uncle of Taliban interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani Network, an FBI-wanted terrorist with a $10 million reward offered for information helping to bring him to justice.)

In its bid to win international support, the Taliban is claiming that it will meet its Doha obligations to combat terror.

“We will not allow anyone or any groups to use our soil against any other countries,” Muttaqi was quoted as saying in his press conference Tuesday.

In the Doha agreement the Taliban said it would “not allow any of its members, other individuals or groups, including al-Qaeda, to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies.”

It pledged not to cooperate with such groups or individuals, not to “host” them; to deny them asylum or residence in Afghanistan; to prevent them “from recruiting, training, and fundraising”; and not to issue them with visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents.

Nazary of the NRF scoffed at the notion that the Taliban regime would meet such commitments.

“The Taliban are never going to combat terrorism,” he said. “The Taliban itself is a terrorist organization.”

See also:
On Eve of 9/11 Anniversary, Afghan Ambassador Urges UNSC Not to Recognize Taliban or Ease Sanctions (Sept. 10, 2021)

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