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The Azadi Briefing: Why Does The Taliban Oppose Appointment Of A UN Special Envoy To Afghanistan?

Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.
Members of a Taliban delegation arrive for a meeting with foreign diplomats in Qatar's capital Doha, in October 2021.

Welcome to The Azadi Briefing, an RFE/RL newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan. To subscribe, click here.

I'm Abubakar Siddique, senior correspondent at RFE/RL's Radio Azadi. Here's what I've been tracking and what I'm keeping an eye on in the days ahead.

The Key Issue

The United Nations is convening a major international meeting on Afghanistan in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar on February 18-19.

The possible appointment of a special UN envoy to Afghanistan will be one of the key issues discussed at the meeting, which will bring together the special representatives for Afghanistan from various countries.

But the Taliban has opposed the appointment of an envoy, an international interlocutor who would be tasked with promoting dialogue between the extremist group and exiled opposition political figures.

After seizing power in 2021, the Taliban has monopolized power and sidelined many ethnic and political groups as well as women. The Taliban's theocratic government remains unrecognized internationally and appears to have little support among Afghans.

Why It's Important: An intra-Afghan process that would lead to a power-sharing agreement among rival Afghan groups is seen as the best way to reach a lasting peace in the war-torn country.

The Taliban's failure to agree to the appointment of a UN special envoy could undermine reconciliation efforts.

"The Taliban thinks that it is not necessary to have a political dialogue with people who have left the country," Tariq Farhadi, an Afghan political analyst based in Europe, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

Many of the leaders of the former internationally recognized Afghan government went into exile after the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban has said the appointment of a UN envoy is unnecessary because the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which primarily coordinates humanitarian and development efforts, is already present in the country.

"I don't think that's correct," former British diplomat Sir Nicholas Kay told Radio Azadi, adding that the task of a special envoy will be to promote dialogue among Afghans and "dedicate themselves to that diplomatic international task."

What's Next: Given the Taliban's opposition to a political dialogue and its insistence on imposing its harsh rule through brute force, most of the international community is likely to support the appointment of a special envoy.

But such a move could prompt the Taliban to stop engaging with the United Nations and the international community, which would likely entrench Afghanistan's international pariah status under Taliban rule.

What To Keep An Eye On

Iran has said it is building a 74-kilometer-long "physical barrier" along its long border with Afghanistan.

Kiumars Heydari, head of Iran's regular army ground forces, said on February 10 that the aim was to "block a strip of the border with Afghanistan with physical barriers to limit traffic" on the porous frontier.

He said the project was "one of the most important" undertaken by the Iranian government and will be carried out in four phases.

The launch of the project comes after explosions claimed by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group killed more than 90 people in the southern city of Kerman on January 3, the deadliest attack in Iran in decades.

Tehran has not recognized the Taliban government. But it enjoys relatively good relations with the group, despite clashes over issues like cross-border water resources.

Senior Iranian officials have expressed concerns over security threats emanating from Afghanistan, where IS militants are active. The Taliban claims that the extremist group does not exist in Afghanistan.

Why It's Important: Iran is the second country -- after Pakistan -- that is attempting to build a barrier on the border with Afghanistan.

Iran's project is likely aimed at curbing the thousands of illegal Afghan migrants who cross into the Islamic republic every week. Many are fleeing their homeland to escape Taliban repression and the humanitarian and economic crises in Afghanistan.

On February 14, Taliban officials said that more than 25,000 Afghans had been forcefully expelled from Iran this month.

Tehran has vowed to expel the estimated 5 million Afghans it says are living "illegally" in Iran.

That's all from me for now. Don't forget to send me any questions, comments, or tips that you have.

Until next time,

Abubakar Siddique

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, a journalist for RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, specializes in the coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. He is also one of the authors of the Azadi Briefing, a weekly newsletter that unpacks the key issues in Afghanistan.

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Radio Azadi is RFE/RL's Dari- and Pashto-language public service news outlet for Afghanistan. Every Friday, in our newsletter, Azadi Briefing, one of our journalists will share their analysis of the week’s most important issues and explain why they matter.

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