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International relations

Who's the Afghan rep? U.N. showdown faces Monday deadline

Taliban name ambassador to global body seeking to push out Ghani-era envoy

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen leaves after a news conference in Moscow on July 9. Shaheen has been nominated to serve as U.N. ambassador by the Taliban.     © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- A diplomatic face-off is developing in New York between two representatives of Afghanistan -- the Taliban and the remnants of the government led by former President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country after the Islamist militants took over Kabul.

Both parties have sent letters to the secretary-general's office claiming to be the official representative of the country.

Some countries such as Pakistan have said that the "new reality" in Afghanistan is that the Taliban has control. Under that logic, the Taliban's choice of ambassador, Mohammad Suhail Shaheen, the current spokesperson of the group's Doha office, should be allowed to give a speech to the General Assembly.

But others like Germany argue that accepting the Taliban representative would be acknowledging the group's legitimacy -- before they address any of the international community's concerns such as protection of women's rights and the establishment of an inclusive government.

The U.N. will have to make a decision one way or another by Monday afternoon, when the U.N. floor is reserved for Afghanistan -- the last slot of the General Assembly.

A U.N. employee cleans microphone during the General Assembly on Sept. 21. The Afghanistan representative is scheduled to speak on Monday afternoon.   © AP

Last week, the secretary-general's office received a communication from Ghani-appointed Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai, containing the list of Afghan delegates for the assembly, according to U.N. deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq.

On Monday, however, the secretary-general received a separate communication signed by Taliban Foreign Minister Ameer Khan Muttaqi requesting to participate in the assembly. The letter claimed that as of Aug. 15, the day the Taliban took over Kabul, "Mohammad Ashraf Ghani [was] ousted and [countries across the world] no longer recognize him as president."

Haq said the letter declared Isaczai "no longer represents Afghanistan."

Since the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, no foreign government has recognized the group. Multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the IMF have cut off funding based on the question of the Taliban's legitimacy.

For the Taliban, if Shaheen were to be accepted as the U.N. ambassador it would be a major stamp of approval from the international community and could pave way to access to funds that they desperately need.

On Monday, when asked who should represent Afghanistan, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told Nikkei Asia that "there could be a legal view and a pragmatic political view. The pragmatic political view is that there is a new reality."

Qureshi added: "The immediate challenge is not recognition. The immediate challenge is stability. The immediate challenge is preventing a humanitarian crisis. The immediate challenge is that Afghanistan doesn't revert back to conflict."

On the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday, Qureshi held a meeting with Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani of Qatar -- a key country that has hosted the Afghan peace process.

Pakistan -- one of only three countries to recognize the first Taliban regime that was in power from 1996 to 2001 -- "underlined the need for the international community to remain engaged with Afghanistan in order to prevent the emergence of humanitarian and economic crises in the country," according to a handout.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas expressed opposition to using the speaking slot as an opportunity for Taliban recognition.

"To schedule a show at the United Nations won't serve anything," he told reporters in New York on Wednesday.

"What's important are concrete deeds and not just words, including on human rights and in particular the rights of women and on an inclusive government and distancing from terrorist groups," he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) on the sidelines of the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Sept. 21. The foreign minister says Turkey does not take a stance on the Afghan representative at this stage.   © Reuters

Each country's delegation to the U.N. is reviewed by the Credentials Committee, a nine-member group appointed by the president of the General Assembly and voted on by the assembly at the beginning of each regular session.

The nine members to the current session are the U.S., China, Russia, Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden, who is the chair.

Unless a change of representatives is approved by the committee, Isaczai can still perform as the permanent representative.

A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. told Nikkei on Wednesday that Washington is "following this issue closely and will work with the other members of the Credentials Committee in due course."

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Nikkei Asia that Ankara does not have a position on which Afghan representative speaks.

"This is not for us to decide. We will leave it to the Credentials Committee and follow what the committee decides," he said outside the newly built Turkish House in front of the U.N. headquarters.

His president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had called for the international community to provide aid to Afghanistan "regardless of the political process," when he addressed the General Assembly on Tuesday.

But Cavusoglu's comments suggested that Turkey was not lobbying either way. Turkey, which was responsible for security at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul for years leading up to the Taliban takeover of the capital, is now helping with repairs to reopen the airport.

While Credentials Committee meetings are usually ceremonial and only held to confirm the applications, they do come into focus when unlawful takeovers of power have occurred. In these times, they have the power to recognize the party chosen through elections over powers that took over by force.

In the 1990s, military forces that took the reins in Haiti and Sierra Leone were not acknowledged as representatives at the U.N.

During the Taliban's previous rule, the Credentials Committee postponed a decision on who to recognize, and the previous representative of the Afghan government stayed in the post.

Regarding the schedule of the committee, Monica Grayley, spokesperson to the president of the General Assembly, told Nikkei that it traditionally meets in November, with the assembly considering the report of the committee the following month.

Asked if the committee could meet before Afghanistan's slot on Monday, Grayley said "only the committee can decide when to meet."

Additional reporting by Jack Stone Truitt and Ken Moriyasu in New York

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