The Taliban Pushes for Recognition at the UN General Assembly Meeting

Written by: Rebecca Buchanan, Associate Editor

During the United Nations General Assembly meeting that began last month—the 76th UNGA—the Taliban requested representation and participation, starting a battle for control of Afghanistan’s diplomatic presence. The request, which came in a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres, asked for permission to speak to the General Assembly and called for the replacement of the current Afghan envoy with Mohammad Suhail Shaheen—the Taliban’s nominee for UN Ambassador. The letter asserts that Ghulam Isaczai, the existing ambassador for Afghanistan, is no longer a suitable representative of the country given the ouster of President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani.

            Disputes over UN representation are common when new regimes rapidly come to power. Although obscure, the United Nations does have a committee to address such disputes over-representation. The Credentials Committee, which has nine members appointed by the UN President at the beginning of every regular session General Assembly, has historically issued unpredictable decisions influenced heavily by power dynamics between committee nations. The recent committee, appointed by new UN President Abdulla Shahid, includes The Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, China, Namibia, Russia, Sierra Leone, Sweden, and the United States.

            Recognition by the United Nations is considered a vital step in regime legitimacy and could give the Taliban access to much-needed aid funding for the struggling Afghan people and economy. It could also serve as leverage to press the Taliban on key UN concerns including women’s rights, inclusive governance, and education. But recognition would also provide the Taliban with a degree of tacit acceptance that world leaders are hesitant to offer. The Credentials Committee blocked the Taliban from replacing Afghanistan’s UN Ambassador when it ruled from 1996-2001 by deferring the decision until the U.S. intervened.

            A deferral seems likely, although the Credentials Committee has yet to meet this session. The committee received letters from the Taliban and sitting ambassador Isaczai in support of their respective positions. Representatives from Russia and the U.S., both committee nations, have made clear that the decision is of high importance and have expressed reluctance to decide in favor of the Taliban. Ambassador Isaczai declined his chance to address the annual high-level UN General Assembly on Monday, September 28th to “preserve the national interests…and to continue long-term cooperation with the United Nations.”

            UN recognition of a Taliban appointed ambassador would be a significant move towards legitimizing the Taliban’s regime. Although it is unlikely that the Credentials Committee will permit Shaheen to take Afghanistan’s seat, the choice will have a crucial impact on how the Taliban interacts with international governments and agencies going forward.

References

CNN – Taliban request representation at the United Nations, kicking off credentials battle – Sep. 21, 2021, available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/21/world/taliban-unga-intl/index.html

Journal of the United Nations – General Assembly Official Meeting Summary – Sep. 14, 2021,  https://journal.un.org/en/meeting/officials/cb4e5d24-a709-ec11-9123-0050569e8b67/2021-09-14

NPR – Committee to Decide Who Speaks on Behalf of Afghanistan at the U.N. General Assembly – Sep. 22, 2021, available at https://www.npr.org/2021/09/22/1039799987/committee-to-decide-who-speaks-on-behalf-of-afghanistan-at-the-u-n-general-assem

REUTERS – No one from Afghanistan will address world leaders at U.N. – Sep. 27, 2021, available at https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/no-one-afghanistan-will-address-world-leaders-un-2021-09-27/