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Taliban ask to address UN General Assembly, name new envoy

The Taliban have demanded representation at UN General Assembly’s high-level meeting of world leaders this week, challenging the credentials of Afghanistan’s former UN envoy.

Taliban-appointed foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter sent to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.  

In the letter, Muttaqi asked to speak in the course of the assembly’s annual session, and nominated the group’s Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s new permanent representative to the UN, Dujarric said Wednesday.

The letter also indicated that Ghulam Isaczai, the accredited Afghan ambassador, no longer represents Afghanistan at the UN, stressing that former president Ashraf Ghani was “ousted” on 15 August, the day he fled the country, and that countries across the world no longer recognize him as president.

The letter did not specify whether Muttaqi wanted to travel to New York to speak or the Taliban would submit a recorded video message, as many leaders are doing this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UN spokesman further said Guterres received a separate letter from Isaczai on September 15, containing the list of Afghanistan’s delegation for the session.

Dujarric said both letters have been sent to the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee, whose members include Russia, China, the United States, Sweden, South Africa, Sierra Leone, Chile, Bhutan and the Bahamas.

In cases of disputes over seats at the UN, the General Assembly’s nine-member credentials committee must meet to make a decision. However, the committee is unlikely to meet on the issue before Monday, so it is doubtful that the Taliban foreign minister will address the world body.

Until a decision is made by the credentials committee, Isaczai will remain in the seat, according to the General Assembly rules.

Isaczai is currently scheduled to address the final day of the meeting on September 27.

The committee has in the past refrained from making a decision and instead referred it to the General Assembly for a vote, an unnamed diplomatic source told AFP.

The committee traditionally meets in October or November to assess the credentials of all UN members before submitting a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year.

The latest development comes as no government has yet recognized the Taliban’s new interim government, first demanding that it meet commitments on human rights, but some countries have warned against isolating Afghanistan and stressed the need for dialog.

UN acceptance of the Taliban’s newly named ambassador would be an important step in the group’s bid for international recognition.

Following US President Joe Biden’s decision to fully withdraw the American troops from Afghanistan, the government swiftly fell in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul amid the Taliban’s seizure of the entire country.

On September 7, the Taliban announced the formation of a caretaker government.

The Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 until the United States invaded the country and toppled the Taliban-run government in 2001 on the pretext of fighting terrorism following the September 11 attacks in the US.

Western countries and international financial organizations have suspended aid to Afghanistan, depriving it of billions of dollars needed to finance vital food imports, as the Taliban have not been recognized by the international community.

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