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No Afghan 'reintegration' without progress on rights: UN

Afghan women walk along a road in Arghandab district of Kandahar province on May 27, 2024
— United Nations (United States) (AFP)

Restrictions on women's rights continue to prevent Afghanistan's "reintegration" into the international community, a senior UN official said Friday, noting the Taliban's participation in upcoming talks in Doha is not legitimization of the isolated government.

Since their 2021 return to power, Taliban authorities have not been formally recognized by any nation and apply a rigorous interpretation of Islam, leading to a suppression of women's freedoms that the United Nations has described as "gender apartheid."

Restrictions on women and girls, particularly in education, "deprive the country of vital human capital" and lead to a brain drain that undermines the impoverished country's future, Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN mission in the country, UNAMA, told the Security Council.

"By being deeply unpopular (the restrictions) undermine the de facto authorities' claims to legitimacy," she said.

"And they continue to block diplomatic solutions that would lead to Afghanistan's reintegration into the international community."

Last year marked the start of a process in Doha to consider strengthening the world community's engagement with Afghanistan.

The first Doha talks included foreign special envoys to Afghanistan under the aegis of the United Nations, and in the presence of the country's civil society, including women.

The Taliban had been excluded from the opening talks and refused to take part in the second round if other representatives from the country were involved.

The third round of talks is set for June 30 and July 1 in Doha, and the Taliban has given assurances it will attend.

"For this process to truly begin, it is essential that the de facto authorities participate at Doha," Otunbayeva said, warning however that high expectations "cannot realistically be met in a single meeting."

"It cannot be repeated enough that this sort of engagement is not legitimization or normalization," she stressed.

Responding to criticism over the absence of Afghan civil society representatives, notably women, at the talks that include the Taliban, Otunbayeva said those groups would be present in Doha for a separate meeting on July 2.

"This is what is possible today," she said.

Afghanistan's UN ambassador Naseer Ahmad Faiq, who still represents the government that preceded the Taliban's rise to power, called the absence of civil society and women at the table in Doha "disappointing."

He also expressed concern the agenda does not include discussions on the political process and human rights in Afghanistan, saying "this will be perceived as a shift away from issues deemed essential to the people of Afghanistan."