Taliban name UN envoy, ask to address United Nations General Assembly

The Taliban, the new rulers of the war-torn land of Afghanistan, have now demanded representation at this week’s United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) session, thereby challenging the credentials of the pre-existing envoy of the country. The Taliban have named a new UN permanent representative – Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, once a spokesperson for the insurgents during peace negotiations in Qatar. The move is expected to trigger a diplomatic battle between Afghanistan’s former UN envoy and the Taliban rulers over the high-level meeting of the international body.

The world is watching closely every single move of the new rulers of Afghanistan before coming to a decision regarding recognition of the newfound regime. While the global community is in no hurry to do so, the question now facing the United Nations is a crucial one – should the Taliban be provided with a platform at the global stage to put forward their views? And if so, to what extent should the said platform allow or curb the expressions of the insurgents?

The way the world leaders choose to approach this question, experts believe, may define the molding conflict between the former UN envoy of Afghanistan and the new representative put forward for the global stage by the country’s Islamist rulers.

According to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, secretary-general Antonio Guterres received a communique on September 15 from the currently accredited Afghan ambassador, Ghulam Isaczai, with the list 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 participation in the UN gathering of world leaders.

In this new communique, the Taliban claimed that Isaczai no longer represents Afghanistan since former president Ashraf Ghani was “ousted” as of August 15 this year and that countries across the world “no longer recognise him as president”. In light of these developments, the Taliban said they are nominating Mohammad Suhail Shaheen as the new permanent UN representative.

However, it is not yet known if the UN credentials committee is going to legitimise this request. An official from the panel told the Associated Press under strict condition of anonymity that the UN committee “would take some time to deliberate”, suggesting the Taliban’s envoy would not be able to speak at the General Assembly at this session at least during the high-level leaders’ week. Senior officials of the US state department said they were aware of the Taliban’s request, but could not predict how the panel might rule.

Afghanistan is scheduled to give the last speech on the final day of the high-level meeting on September 27. It wasn’t clear who would speak if the committee met and the Taliban were given Afghanistan’s seat.

In cases of disputes over seats at the United Nations, the official protocol says that the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. Both the aforementioned letters have been sent to the committee after consultations with General Assembly president Abdulla Shahid’s office, the international body said. The committee’s members are the United States, Russia, China, Bahama, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone, and Sweden.

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