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Still Under Sanctions, Still Unrecognised: A dossier of reports on Afghanistan, international relations and aid ahead of Doha III

AAN Team 13 min

The United Nations is due to host a third meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan in Doha, on 30 June-1 July 2024, to discuss Afghanistan. It is aimed, according to a UN spokesperson, at increasing “international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner.” The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has said it will attend if its conditions are met. It was not invited to the first meeting and declined to go to the second. While the Islamic Emirate is still not recognised and Afghanistan remains under UN sanctions, there are differing views on the way forward. Regional countries, keener to get better relations with the IEA are seemingly emerging as a block. Meanwhile, donor countries range from those still wanting to isolate the Emirate as long as it curbs the rights of women and girls and refrains from broadening the currently ‘exclusive’ government, to those capitals warming to the idea of better relations. In the run-up to Doha III, we wanted to bring together the reports we have written on the earlier meetings, as well as papers exploring aid and international relations in this new dossier.

People queue to receive aid in areas devastated by flash floods in Baghlan province in May 2024. They left hundreds of people dead and injured across northern Afghanistan. Photo: Muhammad Yasin/Middle East Images via AFP, 12 May 2024.

Almost three years since the IEA took power, there have only been small shifts in Afghanistan’s relationship with the outside world, but nothing fundamental has changed. UN and United States sanctions, which, at the takeover, suddenly applied not to an armed group but to a ruling party and therefore, the country, are still in place, albeit with waivers. No country has recognised the Emirate as Afghanistan’s government, but some have gone a lot further than others in terms of sending and receiving diplomats, not a small number at the ambassadorial level. The coveted Afghan seat at the UN General Assembly is still not held by an IEA appointee. International aid, a mainstay of the Islamic Republic’s public finances and economy, fell sharply when the Taleban took over, but after some months, was restored, at least in part. However, it has been largely humanitarian and almost completely off-budget. More recently, the amount of aid has declined and is set to fall further.

International players may continue to insist that the Emirate respects the rights of Afghan women and girls, and minorities and form an inclusive government, but the IEA continues to assert its sovereignty over domestic matters and to decry attempts to meddle in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. Its demand to be respected and recognised as Afghanistan’s legitimate government has been consistent, along with pushing for sanctions to be lifted. Trade, rather than aid, is its preferred route to a more flourishing economy.

The UN initiative to convene meetings in Doha emerged in recognition that this impasse was harming Afghan citizens. The meetings were intended to be a forum for special envoys of countries with an interest in Afghanistan, mostly its neighbours, or regional players or donors, to try to establish a consensus on how to deal with the Emirate. That consensus has yet to emerge. Indeed, at the last Doha meeting, splits seemed to be emerging.

AAN reported extensively on the first two Doha meetings, including the discussions beforehand and reactions afterwards, from the Emirate, Afghan women’s rights activists, civil society actors and others. We also delved into the associated debates and votes at the UN Security Council, including over UNAMA’s mandate renewals. 

We have also covered civilian aid, which is an important aspect of international relations, looking at: how the continuing skewing of aid towards the humanitarian has affected the Afghan economy; how the IEA perceives the aid industry; and whether, as the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, has alleged that the Islamic Emirate or its officials are diverting humanitarian aid. In these reports, AAN has uncovered a much more complex, nuanced and interesting situation than media headlines had suggested.

In the run-up to Doha III, we have put together reports on the Doha meetings, aid and international relations published since our last dossier.[1]An earlier dossier, published on 14 May 2023, The Afghan Economy Since the Taleban Took Power: A dossier of reports on economic calamity, state finances and consequences for households, took a wide … Continue reading They are presented in chronological order, with the most recent first. It also seemed useful to provide a brief timeline of events to do with the Doha meetings.

25 April 2023 – The Doha meetings were initiated when Secretary-General António Guterres appointed senior Turkish diplomat Feridun Sinirlioğlu as a Special Coordinator to conduct an “independent assessment” which would provide recommendations for “an integrated and coherent approach among different actors in the international community in order to address the current challenges facing Afghanistan.”

1-2 May 2023 – Shortly after the Sinirlioğlu appointment, Guterres hosted the first meeting of Special Envoys (Doha I), to which the Emirate was not invited. Its aim was “to reinvigorate international engagement around key issues, such as human rights, in particular women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive governance, countering terrorism and drug trafficking.” The special envoys also discussed their expectations from the independent assessment report.

10 November 2023Sinirlioğlu presented his report to the Security Council. It identified five key issues (including human rights, counterterrorism, counternarcotics, economic issues and inclusive governance), presented a “performance-based roadmap” to get to an “end state of Afghanistan’s full reintegration into the international system” and proposed three mechanisms to do that, the large group of interested countries and bodies that already exists, a smaller and more active International Contact Group and, most controversially a UN Special Envoy, complementary to UNAMA, who would focus on “diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders as well as on advancing intra-Afghan dialogue.”

The IEA has proven implacably opposed to the last mechanism, arguing, among other things, that such envoys are appointed to countries embroiled in civil war, which Afghanistan is not.

31 December 2023 – The UN Security Council voted on the Sinirlioğlu report, but failed to reach a consensus after much discussion. In the end, it was neither fully endorsed nor rejected.

18-19 February 2024 – At Doha II, Special Envoys discussed Afghanistan in the absence of IEA representation – it had declined to attend. Differences of opinion emerged, especially between regional players, keener to strengthen ties with the IEA, and Western countries who tend to be the major donors, who range between pro-isolating France and Germany to pro-greater engagement Norway and Japan.

18-21 May 2024 – UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, visited Afghanistan to discuss the meeting with the government, diplomats and civil society. She extended an invitation to Doha III to acting Foreign Minister, Amir Khan Muttaqi, (UN press briefing here). The Emirate has yet to confirm whether or not it will attend

30 June-1 July – The Doha III meeting is due to be held with the aim, said the UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson, of increasing “international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner.”

AAN reports on international relations and aid

From Doha to Doha: The contest over a UN Special Envoy lingers as discussions and disagreements drag on

by Roxanna Shapour, published on 1 March 2024

The opening session of the Special Envoys on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital Doha. Photo: State of Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 18 February 2024
The opening session of the Special Envoys on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital Doha. Photo: State of Qatar Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 18 February 2024

Afghanistan is back on the world’s agenda. The UN Security Council has met behind closed doors to hear about the recently held United Nations-convened meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan in Doha. The current rulers of Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate, decided not to attend the Doha gathering and are adamantly against the planned appointment of a UN Special Envoy to coordinate and facilitate the world’s engagement with the country, as foreseen by the UN Security Council’s latest resolution on Afghanistan. Ahead of the Security Council’s meeting to renew the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which is due to expire on 17 March, AAN’s Roxanna Shapour looks at what is known about the ‘Doha II’ gathering, at the debate among the emerging political blocks about the shape of future engagement with Kabul and how Afghans themselves view a seemingly hamstrung political process that is happening in faraway meeting rooms behind closed doors.


The Contest for a Special Envoy: Will the meeting in Doha yield a shift in the world’s engagement with the Emirate?

by Roxanna Shapour, published on 17 February 2024 

UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, arrives for a press statement to media after a meeting of envoys from more than 20 countries on Afghanistan in Doha, Qatar on 2 May 2023. Photo: Noushad Thekkayil/NurPhoto via AFP

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will host a second meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan in the capital of Qatar, Doha, on 18-19 February 2024. Unlike the last gathering in May 2023, the Emirate has also been invited, although it has not yet confirmed that it will send a delegation. The two-day meeting is expected to focus on the UN Security Council-mandated Independent Assessment Report, particularly its recommendation for appointing a UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, something the Emirate has emphatically opposed. Meanwhile, a January meeting of the regional countries in Kabul appears to have signalled a shift in Emirate thinking, that engagement closer to home might yield better outcomes and strengthen its position vis-à-vis its Western interlocutors. AAN’s Roxanna Shapour looks at the debate around the assessment report, especially as it has solidified into the merits of appointing a UN Special Envoy, and what an Emirate tilt to the region might mean for discussions in Doha on international engagement.


UN Security Council Resolution on Afghanistan: Just another ‘much ado about nothing’?

by the AAN Team, published on 31 December 2023

The Security Council adopts resolution 2721 (2023) on the independent assessment on Afghanistan. The resolution was adopted with 13 votes in favour and two abstentions (People’s Republic of China, Russian Federation). Photo by UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe, 29 December 2023

The United Nations Security Council has passed a resolution on the Independent Assessment on Afghanistan, which former Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Feridun Sinirlioğlu had put together. UNSC Resolution 2721 only passed after a month and a half of Security Council meetings, mainly held behind closed doors and two weeks of intensive negotiations on its language. The result is a resolution which failed to fully endorse the Sinirlioğlu report. AAN’s team here summarises the developments around the Independent Assessment, from how it came to be proposed to its contents and the resolution passed on 29 December, the last working day of the Council in 2023.


Whose Seat Is It Anyway: The UN’s (non)decision on who represents Afghanistan

by Thomas Ruttig, published on 7 December 2023

A view of delegates inside the General Assembly Hall during the first day of the 78th session of the General Assembly held on 19 September 2023. Photo by UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

While the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) maintains that it deserves full-scale recognition, it has not been given the country’s seat at the United Nations. In early December 2023, the UN General Assembly will again consider whether or not to allow the Islamic Emirate to take Afghanistan’s seat at the world body. The argument plays out in the context of a worldwide discussion about whether and how governments should deal with a regime that critics say denies women and girls almost every individual right, has a dire general human rights record and is narrowly based. AAN’s Thomas Ruttig has been analysing the impasse, noting the intra-Republic rivalry to also represent Afghanistan at the UN, and scrutinising UN procedures and considerations to try to make sense of it all.


Survival and Stagnation: The State of the Afghan economy

by Kate Clark, published on 7 November 2023

Goods trucks cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan at Torkham. Photo: Shafiullah Kakar/AFP, 25 February 2023
Goods trucks cross from Afghanistan into Pakistan at Torkham. Photo: Shafiullah Kakar/AFP, 25 February 2023

This paper is an attempt to give an overview of the Afghan economy in light of two new World Bank reports, one on the economy, two years on from the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA), and a second on the welfare of households. The Emirate has not published budgets for this year or last, which makes the wealth of detail and analysis provided by these reports, both at the macro level and for families and businesses, important. This paper also draws on presentations by ministers and senior officials at televised ‘accountability sessions’ held over the summer in which the economy was a strong theme. The presentations were generally upbeat, portraying a picture of progress, but the larger general picture appears much bleaker, finds AAN’s Kate Clark.


Aid Diversion in Afghanistan: Is it time for a candid conversation?

by Ashley Jackson, published on 1 October 2023

Beneficiaries wait in queues for hours to receive food aid provided by an international humanitarian
organisation in Kabul. Photo: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via AFP, 20 February 2023

Diversion of aid in Afghanistan is in the news again, this time with allegations by the United States Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), John Sopko, that the Islamic Emirate or its officials are diverting humanitarian aid. Language in a draft US appropriations bill would prohibit any US assistance going “directly or indirectly” to the Taleban, something which Sopko has warned could have “serious” consequences for aid organisations. The Emirate has denied the allegations. Guest author Ashley Jackson* has been looking into the Taleban’s actual influence over aid, hearing from aid workers on the ground about their experiences and delving into the role of both donors and the Emirate in its delivery. She asks if aid diversion is any worse – or better – than the historical ‘norm’ in Afghanistan and suggests that, whatever its level, there is a need for a candid dialogue that would lead to practical and ethical steps to ensure aid reaches those most in need.


Taleban Perceptions of Aid: Conspiracy, corruption and miscommunication

by Sabawoon Samim and Ashley Jackson, published on 30 July 2023

Labourers take rest while distributing food aid from an NGO at a gymnasium in Kabul. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/AFP, 17 January 2023

Despite publicly claiming to welcome international aid, the Taleban government has exercised a growing influence over humanitarian operations within Afghanistan at both national and local levels. This includes bans on women working for NGOs and the United Nations and, more recently, an order to hand over all internationally funded education projects to the Ministry of Education. These more high-profile national orders have been issued alongside hurdles and increasing suspicion at the local level, from demands for beneficiary lists to the detention of aid workers. In this report, Sabawoon Samim and Ashley Jackson look at the factors driving these restrictions on aid delivery and the dynamics that shape Taleban attitudes toward aid and aid workers.


A Ban, a Resolution and a Meeting: A look at the May 2023 meeting in Doha and the reactions to it

by Kate Clark and Roxanna Shapour, published on 5 May 2023

Afghan women hold placards as they march to protest for their rights, in Kabul of the UN meeting in Doha. Photo: AFP, 29 April 2023

The 1-2 May 2023 gathering in Doha, hosted by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, brought together the representatives of 21 countries – the five permanent members of the Security Council, major donors and regional players, plus the European Union and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. They spent two days talking about how to engage with the Taleban, who have now been in power for 20 months, but are still unrecognised as Afghanistan’s government. The gathering took place in the shadow of the extension of an Islamic Emirate ban on women working from NGOs to the UN and a chaotic few weeks for the UN. AAN’s Roxanna Shapour and Kate Clark have been sifting through Guterres’ press statement and the various reactions to the gathering. They ask some questions about the gathering in Doha – and try to answer them.


The May 2023 Doha meeting: How should the outside world deal with the Taleban?

by Kate Clark, published on 30 April 2023 

Taleban fighters watching on from a vehicle as women protest in Shahr-e Naw, Kabul, demanding the right to education, jobs and political representation from the Taliban government. Photo Wakil Kohsar/AFP, 16 December 2021

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is due to host a two-day meeting on Afghanistan with foreign envoys, beginning tomorrow, 1 May 2023, in the capital of Qatar, Doha. The Taleban have not been invited. AAN understands from sources from invited countries that the idea for the meeting emerged from visits to Kabul in January by senior UN officials trying to negotiate with the Islamic Emirate on its ban on NGOs employing Afghan women. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, in particular, came away with the sense that there needed to be a political plan for dealing with the Emirate. In recent days, however, the Doha meeting has become mired in controversy over her reported suggestion that the representatives would be looking into the question of recognising the Taleban’s government. This suggestion was swiftly and categorically denied by the UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson. The Taleban’s extension of their ban on employing Afghan women to the UN, made almost a month ago, has only complicated everything further, as AAN’s Kate Clark reports (with input from Roxanna Shapour), including appearing to throw the UN into disarray.


Bans on Women Working, Then and Now: The dilemmas of delivering humanitarian aid during the first and second Islamic Emirates

by Kate Clark, published on 16 April 2023

A woman carries her child and a sack of rice distributed by the Afghan Ministry of Refugees in cooperation with China, in Kabul. Photo: Ahmad Sahel Arman/AFP, 8 June 2022

Anyone who lived in Afghanistan during the first Islamic Emirate will find the current stand-off between the Taleban and NGOs – and now the United Nations – over the issue of women working familiar. There is the same clashing of principles: the Emirate’s position that women must largely be kept inside the home to avoid the risk of social disorder and sin, and the humanitarians’ that the equitable and effective delivery of aid is impossible without female workers. The choices on the humanitarian side also feel familiar, and all unattractive: comply, boycott or fudge. AAN’s Kate Clark has spoken to people who were working in the humanitarian sector in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and who continue to follow Afghanistan, to get their insights into the similarities and differences – and what, possibly, might help.


Two Security Council Resolutions and a Humanitarian Appeal: UN grapples with its role in Afghanistan

by Jelena Bjelica and Roxanna Shapour, published on 19 March 2023

UN Security Council unanimously votes on two resolutions on Afghanistan. Photo: United Nations, 16 March 2023

Recent complex negotiations surrounding UNAMA’s mandate in Taleban-run Afghanistan have shone a light on longstanding divisions among UN Security Council members concerning key issues, such as human rights, women’s rights, peace and security and governance. This year, on 16 March 2023, member states agreed to resolve their differences by passing two Afghanistan-related resolutions; one that extended the UNAMA mandate until 17 March 2024 and another that requested an independent assessment of in-country efforts, with a report to be presented to the council before 17 November 2023. Meanwhile, the new Humanitarian Response Plan, which requests USD 4.6 billion to support 23.7 million Afghans in need, was launched in early March after a two-month delay. Defining the coming months as an “operational trial” period, the HRP plans for enhanced monitoring to ensure minimal conditions are met. AAN’s Jelena Bjelica and Roxanna Shapour take a look at the latest developments related to the UN and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and wonder what the efforts to increase scrutiny might bring.

Edited by Kate Clark

References

References
1 An earlier dossier, published on 14 May 2023, The Afghan Economy Since the Taleban Took Power: A dossier of reports on economic calamity, state finances and consequences for households, took a wide look at the economy, both at the household and macro-economic levels. It also included reports on international aid to Afghanistan, which inevitably deal also with (non-) recognition and sanctions.

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Aid donors international relations Taleban United Nations UNSC

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