US envoy warns Taliban that women’s rights are key to stability at rare meeting

Thomas West met senior Taliban officials in Abu Dhabi this week to discuss human rights, security and the failing economy

US Envoy Thomas West at a meeting in the UAE told the Taliban that respecting women’s rights is central to national stability. EPA
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Afghanistan’s diaspora has a role in rebuilding their country but stability and prosperity rely on respecting women’s rights, US Afghanistan Envoy Thomas West told a delegation of senior Taliban officials in a rare meeting in the UAE this week.

Mr West held talks with top Taliban officials, including acting defence minister Mullah Mohammed Yaqoub Mujahid, while both were in the UAE. He raised issues of security, stability and respect for human rights.

A US State Department official told The National that the meeting came about as "West’s visit to the UAE overlapped with a Taliban delegation".

"As a part of our policy of pragmatic engagement to advance our interests, West took advantage of the opportunity to meet with the Taliban representatives to engage on issues of great importance to the United States and the international community, including the deteriorating human rights situation and the restrictions that the Taliban are placing on women and girls," the official said.

The meeting came as the Taliban on Wednesday carried out the first public execution since their return to power in 2021. The man, they said, was convicted of murder.

The Taliban’s treatment of women is also in the spotlight after an international backlash at footage of women being publically flogged for “moral crimes”.

“[Afghanistan’s] economic and social stability, and the Taliban’s domestic and international legitimacy, depend enormously on their treatment of Afghanistan’s mothers and daughters,” Mr West said on Twitter shortly after the Abu Dhabi meeting.

The US and other western states have repeatedly said that their willingness to engage officially and continue to support Afghanistan depends on respect for rights and freedoms.

In recent weeks, the Taliban leadership has issued edicts heavily curtailing the rights of women, limiting their employment and barring their entry into public parks. Afghan girls above grade six have been prohibited from attending school in most provinces for more than 440 days.

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Mr West also discussed security matters with the Taliban delegation, including counter-terrorism efforts against ISIS.

Despite a huge reduction in bloodshed since the Taliban overran the government as the US withdrew in 2021, the country has still been rocked by attacks carried out by extremist groups.

Even after the US exit, however, Washington has said it will continue to take action against extremists that threaten its interests and security.

This was underscored on July 31 when a US precision drone strike in a heavily populated neighbourhood in central Kabul allegedly killed Ayman Al Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda and one of the world’s most wanted terrorists.

Mr Al Zawahiri’s apparent presence in the Afghan capital, where he is thought to have been living for months, cast into doubt Taliban assurances to the US that the group was now in the business of fighting terrorists rather than sheltering them.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has called on the West to drop international sanctions on the group to prevent the collapse of the economy and allow the country to rebuild after years of violence.

These sanctions largely target individual Taliban members rather than Afghan government institutions, but their vague parameters leave many banks, companies and even NGOs outside Afghanistan unwilling to deal with the country.

The US also continues to hold billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s national reserves, leaving the Taliban government short of cash with which to pay public-sector workers, including teachers.

The Taliban, meanwhile, have sought out Afghanistan’s large diaspora community, particularly in nearby countries, to attract investment and remittances to help boost the failing economy.

Mr Yaqoub was accompanied on his visit to the UAE by Anas Haqqani, a senior Taliban adviser and brother of acting interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.

Mr Haqqani addressed a large gathering of Afghan expatriates at a Dubai hotel on Tuesday, where he urged them to invest in Afghanistan and blamed years of foreign occupation and propaganda for sowing division among Afghans.

While Mr Haqqani’s speech was hostile towards the US, on Twitter Mr West suggested Washington was supportive of the message that Afghans in the UAE and elsewhere should play a greater role in revitalising their country’s economy.

“The UAE is … a long-time hub for Afghan businesses looking to grow [the Afghan] economy,” Mr West said.

Washington and the UAE shared the desire to “encourage policies that attract investment” in Afghanistan, Mr West said.

During their visit to the UAE, Mr Yaqoub and Mr Haqqani also met President Sheikh Mohamed, as well as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

The UAE has played a significant role not only as a host to the US-Taliban meeting but also as a facilitator of humanitarian aid and diplomatic progress in Afghanistan.

Updated: December 08, 2022, 10:15 AM
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