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UN official floats recognition of Taliban ahead of meeting in Doha

Envoys will discuss Taliban's restrictions on women after group banned them from working in UN offices countrywide
Afghan women climb a stony path in the Shor Bazar area of Kabul, on 6 April 2023 (AFP)

The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres is convening an international meeting on Afghanistan in May in Doha, Qatar, where envoys will seek a "durable way forward" for the war-ravaged nation, his spokesman said Wednesday.

Guterres will host the closed-door gathering on 1-2 May and it will feature special envoys on Afghanistan from various countries who aim to "clarify expectations" on concerns including the Taliban's restrictions on women, according to the secretary general's spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric.

"The purpose of this kind of small group meeting is for us to reinvigorate the international engagement around the common objectives for a durable way forward on the situation in Afghanistan," Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarters.

Guterres "continues to believe that it's an urgent priority to advance an approach based on pragmatism and principles, combined with strategic patience, and to identify parameters for creative, flexible, principled and constructive engagement".

It was unclear at this stage whether or not Taliban leadership would be represented at the talks.

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The United Nations mission in Afghanistan has launched an assessment of its operations, following a ban on Afghan women working for the world body.

The announcement of the meeting in Qatar's capital followed remarks Monday by UN deputy secretary general Amina Mohammed, who addressed the prospect of the envoys gathering to discuss the "baby steps" which could put the Taliban back on the pathway to recognition by the international community, albeit with conditions attached.

"There are some who believe this can never happen. There are others that say, well, it has to happen," Mohammed said in a talk at Princeton University.

"The Taliban clearly want recognition... and that's the leverage we have."

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But Dujarric, the spokesman, on Wednesday stressed that Mohammed "was not in any way implying that anyone else but member states have the authority for recognition" of Afghanistan's government.

Last December, the UN General Assembly approved a decision to postpone any approval of Kabul's request to accredit a new ambassador representing them at the UN, following the Taliban's return to power in August 2021.

Dujarric said at Princeton that the UN deputy secretary general - who is deeply involved in the issue - spoke merely about "reaffirming the need for the international community to have a coordinated approach regarding Afghanistan".

"This includes finding common ground on the longer-term vision for the country, and sending a unified message to the de facto authorities on the imperative to ensure women have their rightful place in the Afghan society," he added.

On 4 April, the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for UN offices countrywide, sparking criticism across the West and a UN review of the world body's Afghanistan operations. 

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