Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

International Engagement

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

Roxanna Shapour 18 min

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 the appointment of 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 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.

Since its re-establishment in August 2021, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) has repeatedly called for international recognition and demanded that the country’s UN seat be given over to its representative (see AAN reporting here). Yet, at the first meeting of special envoys for Afghanistan hosted by the United Nations in Doha in May 2023, the Emirate was not even invited (as AAN reported). Two weeks before that meeting, remarks made by UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, had sparked a media and social media storm by appearing to suggest that recognition of the Emirate might be on the table – and:

We hope that we’ll find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition [of the Taliban], a principled recognition,” Mohammed said. “Is it possible? I don’t know. [But] that discussion has to happen. The Taliban clearly want recognition, and that’s the leverage we have.

UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stepped in to clarify Mohammed’s remarks: “She was reaffirming the need for the international community to have a coordinated approach regarding Afghanistan, which includes finding common ground on the longer-term vision of the country.” He went on to tell reporters that the purpose of the May 2023 Doha meeting was to “reinvigorate the international engagement around the common objectives for a durable way forward on the situation in Afghanistan.” Dujarric said he believed that achieving these objectives required “an approach based on pragmatism and principles, combined with strategic patience, and to identify parameters for creative, flexible, principled, and constructive engagement (see AAN’s analysis here). The Emirate’s ban on women working for NGOs (on 24 December 2022) and extended on 4 April (less than a month before the meeting) to the UN, however, loomed large and dominated the agenda.

Unlike that first meeting of the special envoys, this time, the UN has extended an invitation to Kabul. The IEA’s anticipated participation was touted by many, including European Union Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, who said it represented a “significant opportunity to meet, to hold meaningful discussions about Afghanistan, and to show, on all sides, readiness to engage on a way forward, based on the [independent assessment] report, in a UN-led process” (see EU statement here).

However, the Emirate has not rushed to confirm its attendance, initially saying it was considering the matter and would announce its decision in due course (see for example Hasht-e Sobh here). Later, it appears to have set two conditions for its participation (more on which below) and a day before the meeting is due to start, we still do not know if the IEA will attend. 

In this report, we lay out the background to the meeting, why there was the move to assess international engagement with the IEA, what the Assessment said, responses to it, and the political manoeuvrings ahead of this second Doha meeting, which have focussed on whether or not there should be a UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, and the balance between regional perspectives on the assessment report, the IEA’s response and the viewpoints of Western countries. 

Background to the 18 February meeting – a controversial assessment report 

The initiative to assess international engagement with Afghanistan emerged out of weeks of complex negotiations over Afghanistan and the annual renewal of UNAMA mandate in early 2023. Out of this, on 16 March 2023, the UN Security Council (UNSC) passed two resolutions on Afghanistan – one (Resolution S/RES/2678(2023) extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) until 17 March 2024, while another (Resolution S/RES/2679(2023) asked the Secretary-General 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” (see AAN report here which looked at the politics behind this move in detail). 

About a month later, Guterres appointed senior Turkish diplomat Feridun Sinirlioğlu as the Special Coordinator for the independent assessment (see 25 April announcement here). The appointment preceded the first meeting of Special Envoys on Afghanistan, which was, by then, long-awaited and which was held in Doha on 1-2 May 2023. The gathering, said host Guterres, was “about developing a common international approach, not about recognition of the de facto Taliban authorities” and that it was important to “understand each other’s concerns and limitations” (see a readout of the press conference here). Participants in this meeting, Guterres said, had agreed on “the need for a strategy of engagement that allows for the stabilisation of Afghanistan but also allows for addressing important concerns” (see also AAN analysis here).

Following the deadline set for him by the Security Council resolution, Sinirlioğlu submitted his independent assessment on Afghanistan to the Council on 10 November 2023. It was not published on the UN website until 6 December (here), although it was leaked and widely distributed soon after Security Council members received it (see, for example, the independent, women-led, non-profit news website Pass Blue here.) It seems that most people, including the IEA, were able to read the leaked report before it was officially circulated – a fact that Emirate officials have commented on with displeasure, according to a source who asked not to be identified because he is not authorised to comment on the issue. 

As AAN reported in a detailed breakdown and analysis of the Assessment, it says it has one “overarching goal” – to “advance the objective of a secure, stable, prosperous and inclusive Afghanistan in line with elements set out by the Security Council in previous resolutions.” It does not, however, identify what those elements are. Widespread consultations with Afghans and others, it says, have underlined that “the status quo of international engagement is not working.” It does not “serve the humanitarian, economic, political or social needs of the Afghan people,” nor does it address the concerns and priorities of “international stakeholders, including the neighbouring countries.” 

The assessment report identifies five key issues and priorities: human rights, especially of women and girls; counterterrorism, counternarcotics and regional security; economic, humanitarian and development issues; inclusive governance and rule of law and; political representation and implications for regional and international priorities (concerning the lack of recognition of the IEA). 

Its recommendations start with the economy and include expanding international assistance, including technical assistance, finalising some near-finished infrastructure projects that were started before August 2021, establishing economic dialogue and financial reforms to reduce the effects of existing sanctions on the banking sector, all with the aim of addressing the basic needs of the Afghan people and strengthening trust through structured engagement. It then has a second set of recommendations addressing international security concerns about terrorism, illegal narcotics and shared water resources. A third set of recommendations lays out a broad and rather vague roadmap for political engagement intended, it says, to fully reintegrate Afghanistan into the international community in line with its international commitments and obligations. 

The final set of recommendations suggests three mechanisms designed to coordinate and oversee the recommendations made in the report: a UN-Convened Large Group Format (which already exists – this was the group which met in Doha in May 2023 and will do so again on 18 and 19 February); a smaller and more active International Contact Group and; a UN Special Envoy, complementary to UNAMA which would focus on “diplomacy between Afghanistan and international stakeholders as well as on advancing intra-Afghan dialogue.” It has been that last mechanism, the appointment of a special envoy, which has ended up eclipsing the rest of the Assessment.

The Security Council did take action on the Assessment, but only after a month and a half of meetings, mainly held behind closed doors, and two weeks of intensive negotiations on the text of UNSC Resolution 2721. It was adopted on 29 December, the Council’s last working day in 2023. Although the resolution stopped short of fully endorsing the Sinirlioğlu report, it did, nevertheless encourage “member states and all other relevant stakeholders to consider the independent assessment and implementation of its recommendations” and asked the Secretary-General to “appoint a Special Envoy for Afghanistan” (see AAN analysis here). Importantly, Resolution 2721 was adopted by 13 votes in favour, with China and Russia abstaining, rather than using their power as permanent members of the Council to veto it (see here). 

Reactions to the Assessment and the Emirate’s opposition to having a special envoy 

There have been widespread reactions to the Sinirlioğlu report among Afghans and others since it was first made public, with some political figures and rights activists calling the report “weak, incomplete, and merely declarative,” according to Hasht-e Sobh. There have been numerous discussion programmes on Afghanistan’s airwaves, with proponents and detractors alike debating the pros and cons of the report’s findings and recommendations (see, for example, ToloNews’ evening discussion programme Farakhabar here and Ariana News’ Tahawol here). Analyses of the Assessment have been published, for example, DROPS’ Shadow Report,[1]DROPS, the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies, in its shadow report, it describes itself as: … an Afghan think tank founded in Afghanistan, now based in Canada. It has a … Continue reading which provided a response from the perspective of Afghan women, as well as numerous meetings both public and behind closed doors, including this briefing session at the Security Council on 20 December 2023, at which former head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Shaharzad Akbar, spoke.[2]Shaharzad Akbar is currently the Executive Director of the Afghan civil society organisation, Rawadari (tolerance).

The IEA, for its part, sent an immediate reaction to the assessment report to the Security Council on 21 November, ie before it was officially published. Its response was not officially released, but was widely shared on social media and reported on by the Afghan media (AAN has seen a copy and screenshots were aired and posted on X by AmuTV; see also @JJSchroden’s post on X). While the Emirate said it welcomed “recommendations of the Assessment that supports the strengthening of [the] national economy of Afghanistan, opens pathways to the recognition of the current government and encourages regional connectivity and transit via Afghanistan,” it warned against viewing Afghanistan “as a political vacuum or an ungoverned space.” It voiced strong and unequivocal opposition to both a UN-appointed Special Envoy and to an intra-Afghan dialogue:

Afghanistan should not be viewed as a conflict zone where foreign-imposed political solutions like intra-Afghan dialogue are deemed necessary, and neither should the time of the international community be wasted with such endeavors. It must be understood that stability and security have returned to Afghanistan, and all its affairs are being managed by a central government. 

Afghanistan has a strong central government that is perfectly capable of independently managing its internal affairs as well as conducting its own diplomacy, hence the establishment of parallel mechanisms by the United Nations such as a Special Envoy are unacceptable. 

The appointment of a special envoy by the UN is, then, for the Emirate a red line. At the same time, Kabul appears happy and has expressed support for the rest of the report.

The IEA turns to the region

If the IEA chooses to go to Doha, it would be the first time its representative had sat at a table with all of Afghanistan’s interlocutors since taking power. That could be seen as going a long way to moving the needle toward its stated goal of international recognition. Yet, in recent months, the Emirate’s focus seems, rather, to have shifted closer to home, with a renewed vigour in its ongoing agenda to engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours to increase economic and political ties. Perhaps the strongest indication of this was a recent meeting hosted in Kabul, which was proposed by Iran’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi in his discussion with IEA acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi on 9 January 2024 (see Amu TV website and the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) here). This was part of a more expansive proposal, which was put forward by Iran, to create a regional contact group of special envoys, something Kazemi Qomi has aired on numerous occasions since (see for example ToloNews here and Iran’s state News Agency IRNA here). 

On 29 January 2024, three weeks after it was first mooted by Iran, Kabul played host to what was called the Afghanistan Regional Cooperation Initiative. It brought together representatives of 11 countries in the region (and in Indonesia’s case, a little beyond) – China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. While the hastily organised meeting was initially envisioned as a regional envoys’ summit, most countries were represented by their resident representatives in Kabul; only the Russian and Chinese Special Envoys travelled to Kabul to participate. Iran was represented by its special envoy, who is also the ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, India by the head of its Kabul-based technical team, Rambabu Chellappa (see Indian media outlet The Wire here).

Many have downplayed the importance of the meeting, saying it lacked high-level participation from countries in the region. For example, an Afghan former Deputy State Minister for Peace, Abdullah Khenjani, noted in a 2 February interview with Afghanistan International, that none of the participating countries had allowed its flag to be displayed in the room, which is a normal practice in diplomatic meetings. He interpreted this as underscoring the participants’ position that none had officially recognised the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the country’s government. To have the IEA represented by its acting Foreign Minister, but regional countries mostly by resident ambassadors, with only three special representatives, showed that those participants were neither very senior nor empowered “to make commitments or decisions on such important issues.” The ambassadors, he said, communicate all the time; the only unique feature of the meeting was that they were “sitting around the same table.” 

It would be rash, however, to dismiss the significance of this meeting. First, it was the first international meeting to take place in Kabul since the fall of the Islamic Republic and the ability of the IEA to convene such a gathering in Kabul at whatever level is significant. Second, it presented an opportunity for the IEA to spell out its foreign policy priorities and put its opposition to a UN-appointed Special Envoy officially on the public record. Finally, the timing of the gathering (about a month before the UN-convened meeting in Doha) sent a strong message to the foreign capitals not only about the Emirate’s intentions but also about sentiment in the region. The calculation seems to have paid off, at least in the short term. The day after the meeting, China accepted the credentials of the IEA representative in Beijing, effectively recognising the Islamic Emirate as the legitimate government of Afghanistan (see VoA here and this AAN report for a more comprehensive discussion on the prospects for the Emirate’s recognition). 

The way that countries in the region, led by Tehran and Kabul, were organising to share their views and possibly consolidate their position, may have prompted another pre-Doha II meeting, that of the G7 countries. The little publicised gathering of special envoys from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States in London on 23 January was also attended by representatives from Norway, the UN, and other international organisations, notably the World Bank (see AmuTV here); there was no final statement and little gleaned as to the contents of the discussion. 

What did Muttaqi’s speech at the Kabul gathering say about Emirate policies?

It is worth taking a closer look at what acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said at the gathering and how it may signify a considered tilt by the Emirate to the region. His government’s primary objective for hosting the meeting, said Muttaqi, was to create a “region-centric narrative aimed at developing regional cooperation for positive and constructive engagement between Afghanistan and the countries of the region” (see a video of his speech here).[3]Translation of Muttaqi’s speech by Ariana News here; in text by Afghanistan Analysts Network.

Muttaqi’s exceptions that heavily bent on the protection of IEA political interests were set high. He said that besides common regional economic interest, he expected discussions to focus on the creation of “a region-centric narrative for positive and constructive engagement with the Afghan government to confront existing and potential threats in the region” and “speaking with one voice to call for the removal of unilateral sanctions on the region and on Afghanistan in particular.[4]Muttaqi identified five key discussion points for the regional meeting:  Exploring region-centric and engagement pathways based on common regional interests; Creating a region-centric … Continue reading

Afghanistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amir Khan Muttaqi (C) speaks during the Afghanistan’s Regional Cooperation Initiative at the Foreign Ministry in Kabul on 29 January 2024. Photo: Wakil Kohsar/ AFP.

He told participants that regional economic cooperation was a top foreign policy goal for the “new Afghanistan.” The end, he said, to 20 years of occupation and 45 years of conflict had paved the way for an “independent central government,” which had already made significant headway in trade and transit with the region. This, he said, had previously been “a dream due to the imposed wars and insecurity.” 

He encouraged all actors to reject a “zero-sum” approach in favour of “win-win” policies, which he said was not “merely a slogan” but rooted in the belief that economic dependencies in the region meant progress and development could only be achieved through an “interaction-oriented narrative in all fields, as opposed to an inconsistent and evasive interaction narrative.” This, he said, would allow the region to reduce potential security threats and exploit economic opportunities, especially in “post-war Afghanistan,” for the benefit of the region at large.

Muttaqi did acknowledge that Afghanistan, “like any other country, has problems,” which he said were mostly inherited from the past. While he emphasised his government’s resolve to find solutions, he stressed that it was not possible to solve all problems in the short term in a country that had experienced “foreign invasions and interventions and civil wars” for the past half-century. He made it clear that the IEA’s domestic policies and actions were not up for discussion, and that attempts at ‘meddling’ would not be tolerated.

Our choices shall be respected. Instead of proposing governance models and pointing fingers at the system, it is better to engage on [issues of] mutual interest.… Within the framework of such regional consensus, we usher in incentive mechanisms to reach thematic agreements that serve mutual interests.

However, he saved his strongest words for the widely anticipated appointment of a UN Special Envoy for Afghanistan, saying that the international community’s interventions in Afghanistan and the 20-year “fight for freedom” had proven that “imported prescriptions and the models they offer do not heal what ails the Afghan people.” In particular, Afghanistan’s previous experience with UN-appointed Special Envoys, he said “has led to nothing but war, instability, and occupation for Afghanistan.” Afghanistan was a now sovereign, free, and safe country with a government that represented all Afghans and “stands ready and has the capacity to conduct talks on issues of mutual concern with different regional and international sides.” It was yet another reason why, he said, a UN Special Envoy was unnecessary. 

Ahead of the Doha meeting: diplomacy intensifies

The Emirate’s repeated opposition to the appointment of a UN Special Envoy has led to a steady stream of foreign officials and special envoys travelling to Afghanistan, as well as numerous meetings held in various capitals, presumably to discuss common approaches and next steps in what has certainly become an impasse between the West and Kabul. Since December 2023, they have held talks with Emirate officials about the proposal, seemingly to no avail. They have included Feridun Sinirlioğlu, who was in Kabul on 6 February for several days of meetings with senior IEA officials, including acting Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Kabir and acting Foreign Minister Muttaqi (see ToloNews here and Pajhwok here). Commenting on Sinirlioğlu’s meeting with Abdul Kabir a series of posts on the official Arg (Prime Minister’s office) X account noted: “The Emirate supports most parts of the above-mentioned report, but does not agree with the calls for the appointment of a special representative for Afghanistan.”

Speaking to the media on 8 February at the end of a four-day visit to Afghanistan, EU Envoy for Afghanistan Tomas Niklasson said the meeting’s agenda had been set by its organisers, the UN (see ToloNews here and here and this press statement published by the EU on 8 February) and that is aim was to “set realistic expectations and prepare better for a constructive Doha meeting.” He said that those officials he had met had expressed “a positive appreciation of the main findings and recommendations of the report,” but, at the same time:

The only specific question I heard referred to the need for a UN Special Envoy, as requested by the UN Security Council, which I understood as being based on negative experiences from a different historic context and a perceived lack of clarity about the precise function and mandate, also in relation to UNAMA’s future mandate. 

The interminable round of diplomacy over the past few weeks seems to have achieved no change in the Emirate’s position. Its unyielding position on the special envoy issue has provoked strong reactions from some, including former US Chargé d’Affaires in Afghanistan, Hugo Llorens who told Voice of America on 8 February (see here): 

The Taliban are not in a position to set conditions for the international community. The Taliban need the international community more than vice versa. They should think and act rationally…. Should the Taliban refuse to cooperate with a new U.N. envoy, it could further limit the international community’s capacity to respond to the political and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.

The UN and the US, meanwhile, have continued to express strong support for the appointment: “The United States strongly supports the resolution’s call for a UN special envoy for Afghanistan,” said US Department of State Spokesperson, Matthew Miller in his 13 February press briefing, “and urges the secretary-general to appoint a special envoy as soon as possible. A special envoy will be well-positioned to coordinate international engagement on Afghanistan to achieve the objectives laid out in this resolution.” 

The Emirate’s opposition to a UN Special Envoy seems likely the primary reason it has not confirmed its participation at Doha. However, Afghan media sources have speculated that a major barrier could also be that “the Taliban does not accept the presence of protesting women at this conference, despite women’s participation being one of the major demands of women’s rights activists in this event,” according to Kabul-based news website Khaama Press. Although, a separate meeting with Afghan women representatives was always on the agenda of the Doha event. 

There have also been references to the IEA giving two pre-conditions, not publicly specified, for its participation at Doha: “If the conditions are not met,” BBC Persian reported Muttaqi saying on 14 February, the Emirate would prefer not to participate in this meeting. It also reported that foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi had confirmed that the issue was discussed in the minister’s meeting with Russian Ambassador to Kabul Dmitry Zhirnov on 15 February (see here the Emirate’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ readout of the meeting here). 

Finally, the foreign ministry released a statement on X concerning the meeting in Doha, on 17 February, which clarifies the conditions for the Emirate’s participation in the meeting: 

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan believed that the meeting of Special Envoys for Afghanistan being convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in the capital of Qatar, Doha, was a good opportunity to hold frank and productive dialogue on issues of disagreement. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has clarified to the UN that if the Islamic Emirate is to participate as the sole official representative of Afghanistan and if there exists an opportunity to hold frank talks between the Afghan delegation and the UN about all issues on a very senior level, then participation would be beneficial. Else, ineffective participation by the Emirate due to non-progress in this area was deemed unbeneficial.

… 

It should be noted that if the UN takes stock of current realities, rebuffs influence and pressure by a few parties, and takes into consideration the fact that unlike the previous twenty-year regime, this government of Afghanistan cannot be coerced by anyone, then there exists possibility of achieving progress in talks with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The controversy over the special envoy and the IEA’s reluctance to accept the UN’s invitation to Doha seem to have made the UN less sure-footed about the very idea of a UN Special Envoy. Interestingly, when asked about the matter during his regular daily press briefing on 7 February, Spokesman for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric sounded equivocal and would not be drawn into commenting: 

I mean, it’s a lot of hypotheticals. No new envoy has been announced. The Secretary-General will be in Doha in February for the meeting of special envoys on Afghanistan, and these are national envoys. Of course, his Special Representative will be there, but I don’t want to prejudge any decision that the Secretary-General may decide to take. 

Also, no doubt, giving pause to many in Western capitals is the possibility of a strong regional bloc emerging with a consensus position on Afghanistan at the Doha meeting. Andrew Watkins from the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) said this could be especially so, given the growing divide and “the tense geopolitical climate” between the United States and Russia and China in the Security Council. In a Q&A piece co-authored with USIP’s Kate Bateman, he compared US support for the appointment of a special envoy with Russian and China’s “lukewarm” position on the issue. He also pointed out another complicating factor, France, another permanent member of the Security Council, “which is strongly critical of the Taliban and suspicious of widening engagement with their regime.” He argues that this may also prove to be a stumbling block for US attempts to “rally allies and partners around a common position” (read the USIP piece here).

As the Doha meeting loomed, a last chance at some pre-gathering talk came at the fifth meeting of Special Representatives and Envoys of the European Union and Central Asia on Afghanistan, held on 14 February in Bishkek. EU Special Envoy Niklasson and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Roza Otunbayeva (who herself served as the president of Kyrgyzstan from 7 April 2010 until 1 December 2011) travelled to the Kyrgyz capital for the meeting, which Kyrgyzstan’s Foreign Ministry said focused on “the current situation in Afghanistan and the process under UN disguise [sic] in run up to the second international meeting in Doha,” (reporting by AkiPress). 

Little information has been released about the two-day meeting in Doha, neither the agenda, nor the format, although we know it will bring together special envoys from 28 nations as well as representatives from several international organisations.[5]28 special envoys from the following countries and organisations are set to participate in the meeting: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, … Continue reading However, according to several sources who are familiar with plans, three separate sessions are scheduled one between the special envoys, chaired by the UN Secretary-General; another between IEA representatives and the UN Secretary-General (with the possible participation of some, if not all, special envoys); and a third meeting between the special envoys and six, as yet unidentified, representatives from Afghan civil society from both inside and outside Afghanistan, including women, chaired by UN Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary Dicarlo. 

“The objective is to discuss how to approach increasing international engagement in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner, including through consideration of the recommendations of the independent assessment on Afghanistan,” said UN Secretary-General spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric in his press briefing on 15 February. , with discussion expected to focus on the appointment of a UN Special Envoy and the practicability of convening a smaller contact group: 

Looking ahead

As the representatives of some 28 countries and international organisations prepare to deliberate the course of future international engagement with Afghanistan, a shared vision seems as elusive as ever. The verdict over the fact of an impasse, as the assessment report points out, “that the status quo of international engagement is not working” – led to its commissioning, intended to find a new method of engagement “that learns from previous efforts, focuses on the needs of the Afghan people, and acknowledges the political realities in Afghanistan today.”

If a new method of engagement was indeed to take “political realities in Afghanistan today” into account, then surely the Emirate’s adamantine opposition to the appointment of a UN Special Envoy would have made it a non-starter. Intended to be a mechanism to coordinate an intra-Afghan dialogue and the international response to Afghanistan, it is a path that the Emirate persistently refuses to take. 

On the other side of the argument is the Emirate, whose repeated calls for recognition have reverberated across the globe for nearly three years. If it indeed coveted recognition and the international legitimacy it affords so strongly, then surely an invitation to sit at the same table with the world’s special envoys to discuss a roadmap for the future could be expected to have been accepted without pre-conditions. After all, going to Doha did not mean accepting the appointment of a special envoy. 

Instead, the conversation seems to have stalled at its first hurdle and all the many outstanding issues seem to have fallen by the wayside. The Assessment makes recommendations which, depending on your point of view, need to be supported as benefiting the Afghan people, or strongly opposed as they would help the Emirate consolidate power. Yet, with the different parties so deeply embedded in their own positions on the issue of the special envoy, the prospects that the Doha meeting on 18-19 February might yield a change to the status quo and open the way to a new form of engagement do not look great. 

Edited by Kate Clark and Jelena Bjelica 

References

References
1 DROPS, the Organization for Policy Research and Development Studies, in its shadow report, it describes itself as:

… an Afghan think tank founded in Afghanistan, now based in Canada. It has a long track record of informing policymakers and other stakeholders through evidence-based research. Its ongoing BISHNAW-WAWRA (which means listen in Dari and Pashto) initiative has been conducting regular surveys with women in Afghanistan to increase the number and diversity of women’s voices feeding into the decisions and programs designed by the international community to mitigate the current political, humanitarian, economic and security crisis faced in Afghanistan. Since August 2021, DROPS has continued its work conducting remote surveys and virtual interviews, roundtables and focus group discussions.

2 Shaharzad Akbar is currently the Executive Director of the Afghan civil society organisation, Rawadari (tolerance).
3 Translation of Muttaqi’s speech by Ariana News here; in text by Afghanistan Analysts Network.
4 Muttaqi identified five key discussion points for the regional meeting: 

Exploring region-centric and engagement pathways based on common regional interests;

Creating a region-centric narrative for positive and constructive engagement with the Afghan government to confront existing and potential threats in the region;

Exploring ways for soft and hard connectivity which would lead to regional economic development for the benefit of all the people of our region;

Speaking with one voice to call for the removal of unilateral sanctions on the region and on Afghanistan in particular; and

Respecting one another’s indigenous and traditional development models and governance mechanisms.

5 28 special envoys from the following countries and organisations are set to participate in the meeting: Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Norway, Pakistan, Qatar, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uzbekistan, in addition to the European Union (EU), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

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Roxanna Shapour

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