U.S. to Consider if Taliban Can Speak to World Leaders at UN General Assembly

The United Nations is considering whether the Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan last month as U.S. forces were leaving the country, will be allowed to speak and represent the central Asian country at the 76th annual UN General Assembly in New York this week.

The Taliban has asked to address world leaders at the conference, and a UN committee will rule on the request.

The United States is one of the nine committee members who will discuss and determine whether the Taliban will be allowed to speak at the event.

China, Sweden, the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Russia are also on the committee, each member with differing views of the Taliban.

China and Russia have taken extra steps to build relations with the Taliban since they took the world by surprise and quickly swept into power on August 15.

The Associated Press on Wednesday reported that U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was contacted on September 15 from the currently accredited Afghan Ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, with the list of Afghanistan's delegation for this year's session.

Five days later, Guterres received separate correspondent from the Taliban signed by Ameer Khan Muttaqi as "Minister of Foreign Affairs," requesting to participate in the U.N. gathering.

Muttaqi wrote in the letter that former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani was "ousted" as of August 15 and that the international community will "no longer recognize him as president," and therefore Isaczai no longer represents Afghanistan, Dujarric said.

Dujarric said the Taliban was nominating a new U.N. permanent representative, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, who was a spokesman for the militants during the peace negotiations in Qatar.

A senior US state department official told the AP that the committee "would take some time to deliberate", and the committee is unlikely to meet before the end of the General Assembly session next Monday.

Until then, under UN rules, Isaczai will represent Afghanistan. He is expected to give a speech on September 27, the final day of the UN event.

The Taliban has never been given a seat at the UN, even when they were last in power between 1996 and 2001. During that time, the ambassador of the government they overthrew stayed on as a UN representative.

The tough question of who should represent Afghanistan at the top level gathering comes only a month after they surprised the world and quickly seized power in Afghanistan, toppling the Afghan government in Kabul.

Ashraf Ghani, the former president of Afghanistan, fled the country on August 15 as the militants were closing in on the city. Ghani has since taken refuge in the United Arab Emirates.

At the UN meeting on Tuesday, Qatar made the case for world leaders to engage with the Taliban. The Gulf state hosted talks between the Taliban and the U.S. in 2020 that ended in an agreement to withdraw US-led forces from the country.

"Boycotting them would only lead to polarisation and reactions, whereas dialogue could be fruitful," Qatar's ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, said.

Taliban media conference
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid (C) addresses a media conference at the airport in Kabul on Aug. 31, 2021. The Taliban have requested to speak and represent Afghanistan at this year's UN General Assembly. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images