Delegates Disagree over Optimal Level of International Engagement with Taliban, as Speaker for Kabul Urges National Dialogue to End Impasse
Restrictions on fundamental human rights and freedoms — especially for women and girls — are exacerbating the bleak humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, as members diverged over the international community’s optimal level of engagement with the Taliban in light of such repression.
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that people in Afghanistan continue to face extreme hardship and uncertainty, with over half of the population — some 24 million people — in need of humanitarian assistance. Around 25 million people are now living in poverty, unemployment could reach 40 per cent and inflation is rising due to increased global prices, import constraints and currency depreciation. “Relentless layers of crisis persist at a time when communities are already struggling,” he stressed, also highlighting a recent earthquake, massive flash floods and oncoming cold weather that will force families to choose between nutrition, education, healthcare or warmth for their children.
“Afghanistan’s problems are, unfortunately, neither new nor unique,” he said, citing the halting of large-scale development assistance, a challenging operating environment and the relegation of women and girls to the sidelines as factors making the country’s current situation so dire. The United Nations and its partners — despite the many challenges — have mounted an unprecedented humanitarian response over the past year to reach almost 23 million people in need. However, the humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan faces a financing gap of $3.14 billion, and $614 million is urgently required to support winter preparedness. “There are many musts,” he added, “but there are many opportunities — the path is clear, and the dangers equally so”.
Markus Potzel, Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said that the Taliban’s practices to govern by decree and policy decisions — declared to be in adherence with “Islam and Afghan traditions” — have curtailed fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially for women and girls. Noting the 23 March announcement of the continued closure of secondary education for girls, he underscored that Afghanistan is currently the only country in the world that denies girls the full right to education.
Attacks against human-rights defenders, journalists and media workers — combined with the impact of broader policy measures taken by the de facto authorities — have had a chilling effect on media freedom and civic activism. It is vital, he stressed, to move towards a sustained dialogue between the Taliban, other Afghan stakeholders, the wider region and the international community, as the country’s future rests on meeting the Afghan people’s needs, preserving their rights and reflecting the country’s diversity in all governance structures.
Lucy Morgan Edwards, independent researcher and author, also briefing the Council, said that, “for those paying attention”, signs of how the current crisis in Afghanistan would unfold were visible in 2001. Noting that the Taliban’s political influence in rural areas grew exponentially from 2003 in proportion to Western broken promises, corruption and brutal military response, she said that, to understand why this catastrophic failure occurred, it is necessary to examine the character of the post-2001 Western intervention in Afghanistan.
Detailing the same, she underscored that the military-industrial complex has been “catastrophic” in Afghanistan, pointing out that United States taxpayers have paid some $300 million per day to fund the war. Relatedly, the United States spent around $148 billion to supposedly reconstruct Afghanistan, but reports document many instances in which money was spent on useless projects. These and other factors indicate “extreme deception” about the reasons for the 20-year Western occupation of — and sudden withdrawal from — Afghanistan, and she said that the entire project was about “recycling United States and NATO taxpayers’ money into the coffers of private business”.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members expressed concern over the Taliban’s restriction of the autonomy, employment and movement of Afghan women and girls. Several expressed worries over the increasing risk that terrorist groups will be able to strengthen their foothold in the country. Members also took note of the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, calling on the international community to act to relieve the suffering of the country’s population and underlining the de facto authorities’ responsibility in this regard.
The speaker for the Russian Federation, noting that the United States’ arrival in Afghanistan only strengthened its status as a hotbed of terrorism and narcotics, said the country has ultimately become dependent on outside aid with no prospects for independent development. Additionally, the United States and its allies — instead of acknowledging their mistakes and supporting reconstruction — blocked Afghan national financial resources. He said the international community must engage constructively with the Taliban to enable effective solutions addressing political inclusivity, terrorism, drugs and human rights.
The representative of the United States, however, said that no country that is serious about containing terrorists would advocate to give the Taliban unconditional access to funds in the Afghan central bank. Stressing that the Taliban has failed to provide for the Afghan people — repressing and starving, instead of protecting them — she asked countries questioning her Government’s actions what they are doing to help. She further noted that the United States is the world’s leading donor in Afghanistan, providing $775 million in humanitarian assistance in 2021.
Underscoring the “tragic reality” faced by millions of Afghans, Mexico’s representative expressed regret over “backsliding” in 2022 regarding the rights of women and girls. The Taliban has restricted the same through an “unfathomable return” to practices like forced marriages and honour killings and the decision to suspend secondary education for girls. Not allowing women to work limits the purchasing power of families and fuels the vicious circle of poverty, hunger and discrimination, he stressed, calling for an end to the exclusion of women from the labour market.
Similarly, the representative of the United Arab Emirates underscored that the Taliban has reversed gains made on women’s and girls’ empowerment over the past two decades, stressing that ensuring their full, equal and meaningful participation in all aspects of life must remain a mainstay in the Council’s demands. Her country, for its part, has given over $2 billion in humanitarian assistance over the last five decades. Calibrated engagement with the Taliban should be maintained, she added, highlighting that Islamic countries have a special role in engaging with the same to help promote religious and cultural dialogue, respect for diversity and elimination of discrimination.
France’s representative, however, said that the Taliban — through its failure to respect its commitments — is choosing isolation. To emerge, it must meet five conditions: allow those who wish to safely leave the country to do so; ensure free access for humanitarian assistance across the country; respect the fundamental rights of all, particularly women and girls; form a representative Government; and break links with terrorist groups. Despite none of these conditions being met, France has contributed €123 million to help the country’s people since 2021, and the European Union has disbursed €335 million over the same period. The United Kingdom’s speaker also detailed his country’s support in this regard, having committed $676 million in aid between April 2022 and March 2023.
On that point, Iran’s representative stressed that the international community must continue to support Afghanistan, especially through the provision of humanitarian and development assistance. As Afghanistan’s security, stability and prosperity are inseparable from those of its neighbours, the United Nations must improve the country’s deteriorating humanitarian situation and ensure its long-term peace and development. Relatedly, the representative of Pakistan warned that a geopolitical divergence on Afghanistan between major powers would have serious implications for Afghanistan and the entire region.
“In general, the outlook for a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan is bleak and opaque,” said that country’s representative, calling for national dialogue to break the current impasse and provide the Afghan people with an opportunity to create a representative, inclusive system. The Council and all international partners should support and facilitate such a dialogue, along with a comprehensive political roadmap to guide all relevant efforts towards an inclusive, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. He went on to call on the Taliban to protect and respect the fundamental human rights of all Afghan citizens, including re-opening girls’ schools, restoring women’s full human rights and honouring their amnesty announcement. To do otherwise violates international human rights and humanitarian law, and Islamic values and principles, he added.
Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Gabon, Ireland, Brazil, Albania, Ghana, Kenya, India and China.
The representatives of the Russian Federation and the United States took the floor a second time.
The meeting began at 3:02 p.m. and ended at 5:31 p.m.