The UN chief began talks in Doha on Monday with representatives of major powers on how to approach the de facto government in Kabul and how it could be persuaded to change its stance on women’s rights.

The Taliban’s de facto government is the big absentee at the meeting to which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has invited 25 countries and organizations, including the special envoys of the US, China and Russia, as well as major donor countries. The talks are expected to conclude today.

The Taliban were not invited and the recognition of their status in Afghanistan “is not on the agenda” of the session’s work, clarified Stéphane Dujarric, the UN Secretary-General’s spokesman, announcing the start of the closed-door talks.

The aim is to “reach a consensus in the international community on how we should negotiate with the Taliban” on issues ranging from women’s and girls’ rights to the fight against terrorism and even drug trafficking, he explained.

“Any form of recognition of the Taliban is completely out of the question,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said last week.

Ahead of the diplomatic appointment, a few dozen Afghan women demonstrated in Kabul on Saturday to express their opposition to any international recognition of the Taliban’s de facto government.

In a letter to envoys on Sunday, an alliance of women’s organizations expressed their “outrage” that any country would consider establishing formal relations with Afghan authorities, given the flagrant violations of women’s rights.

Women’s rights in Afghanistan are an “internal social issue”, the deputy spokesman for the Taliban regime, Bilal Karimi, argued on Monday.

The dilemma

While the Taliban government “would like a positive dialogue” with the international community, he added, “internal issues” such as women’s rights should not preoccupy those talks. “Such issues should not be used as political tools,” he insisted.

Two decades after toppling their regime, the Taliban retook power in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 when the government backed by the international community collapsed. The fundamentalist Sunni Taliban authorities have since applied a harsh version of Islamic law, labeled “gender apartheid” by the UN.

Women were excluded from most educational structures, secondary schools and universities. They are not allowed to work in most public administration positions, in UN agencies, or in non-governmental organizations.

The 15 member states of the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Thursday condemning restrictions placed on women in Afghanistan and calling on all countries to work to “urgently” end those policies.

After the vote, the Taliban’s foreign ministry ruled that “diversity should be respected and not politicized.”

According to diplomats and observers, the meeting in Doha makes clear the dilemma for the international community in the Asian country, where the UN is called upon to help deal with one of the most serious crises on the planet.

According to the Deputy Secretary General of the UN, Amina Mohammed, it is “clear” that the Taliban authorities are hungry for international recognition. A hypothetical normalization of their relations with the UN would notably allow them to recover billions of dollars frozen abroad after they regained power.

According to diplomats, Mr Guterres is expected to address in Doha the review of UN humanitarian operations in Afghanistan, which began in April after Afghan women were banned from working for the agency.

The UN, which considers women absolutely essential to its work in Afghanistan, says it is being called upon to make the “horrible” choice of whether or not to continue operations in the country of 38 million people.