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Taliban asks to address UN after Afghanistan takeover

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 21: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly at UN Headquarters on September 21, 2021 in New York City. More than 100 heads of state or government are attending the session in person, although the size of delegations are smaller due to the Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo by Eduardo Munoz-Pool/Getty Images)

The Taliban wants its envoy to address the annual United Nations General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, a UN spokesman said on Tuesday, raising the question of who should represent Afghanistan in the intergovernmental organisation.

The Taliban, which captured power on August 15 following weeks of a military blitz, is challenging the credentials of the country’s former UN ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, appointed by the previous government. President Ashraf Ghani fled the country last month after the Taliban retook Afghanistan 20 years after it was removed from power in a United States-led military invasion.

The request was sent on Monday via a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, ahead of this week’s UNGA meeting in New York, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesperson for Guterres, said on Tuesday.

Dujarric said his office received a communication from Isaczai on September 15, listing the names of Afghanistan’s delegation for the assembly’s 76th annual session.

Five days later, Guterres received another communication with the letterhead “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” signed by “Ameer Khan Muttaqi” as “Minister of Foreign Affairs,” requesting to participate in the UN gathering of world leaders, when Afghanistan is scheduled to give a speech on September 27.

Muttaqi said in the letter that former Afghan President Ghani had been “ousted” and that countries across the world “no longer recognise him as president”. Therefore, Isaczai no longer represents Afghanistan, Muttaqi added in the letter.

In the letter, the Taliban said it was nominating a new UN permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, who has been a spokesman for the Taliban during peace negotiations in Qatar.

In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the UNGA’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision.

Senior US State Department officials told The Associated Press that they were aware of the Taliban’s request but they would not predict how that panel might rule.

However, one of the officials said the committee “would take some time to deliberate,” suggesting the Taliban’s envoy would not be able to speak on this occasion.

During the Taliban’s rule between 1996 and 2001, the UN had refused to recognise its government. Instead, it gave Afghanistan’s seat to the previous government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

The Taliban has said it wants international recognition and financial help to rebuild the war-battered country, but the makeup of the new Taliban government poses a dilemma for the UN.

Several of the interim ministers are on the UN’s blacklist of international “terrorists and funders of terrorism”.

The Taliban has accused the US of violating the 2020 Doha Agreement, as it demanded that its leaders should be taken off the “terror” list. The agreement also paved the way for the withdrawal of the US-led foreign forces in exchange for security guarantees from the Taliban.

The Taliban government expanded its interim cabinet by naming deputy ministers on Tuesday, doubling down on a hardline, all-male cabinet despite an international outcry.

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