The Pulse | Diplomacy | South Asia

Conflict Over Afghanistan’s UN Seat Widens

The wrangling over Afghanistan’s U.N. seat is microcosm of the larger political battlefield in Afghanistan.

Conflict Over Afghanistan’s UN Seat Widens
Credit: Flickr

Who is Afghanistan’s representative to the United Nations? The dispute over the seat has grown in recent days, now encompassing not just a debate over recognition between the representatives appointed by the Afghan Republic government before the collapse and the Taliban, but now within the cadre of exiled republic officials, too.

On February 7, Naseer A. Faiq, charge d’affaires of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan mission to the United Nations, took to Twitter to complain of “evil plots and conspiracies” against him.

Faiq had assumed leadership of the Afghan mission to the U.N. in mid-December when Ghulam Mohammad Isaczai resigned. Isaczai had been appointed to the post in June 2021 by President Ashraf Ghani, and defended the seat against the Taliban’s efforts to occupy it in the wake of the August 2021 collapse of the Afghan Republic government. It was not clear why Isaczai has resigned. 

On January 26, Faiq delivered an impassioned statement to the U.N. Security Council in which he said he was speaking on behalf of the Afghan people and not the “former government of Afghanistan led by Ashraf Ghani, that has lost its national and international legitimacy.” This seems to have landed him in hot water.

On Twitter this week, Faiq said that corrupt individuals and “traitors” were moving against him after his January 26 remarks. “At the UNSC meeting, I also called on the UNSC for the freezing and confiscation of Afghanistan’s assets illegally transferred to accounts of the former corrupt government officials, and called for holding them accountable.”

“Today,” his tweets continued, “anxious about their criminal record, these corrupt officials have started to stifle my voice to prevent me from sharing the concerns and voices of our people for justice and accountability.”

He shared a February 4 letter from Mohammand Haneef Atmar, signed as minister of foreign affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, to U.N. General Secretary Antonio Guterres, referring him to Isaczai’s mid-December resignation and stating that the deputy permanent representative, Mohammad W. Naeemi, at the time was unwell and so Faiq was introduced as charge d’affaires. Naeemi, the letter states, has recovered and is in good health. Atmar’s letter informs the secretary-general that Naeemi would assumed the charge d’affaires post as of February 4.

For its part, the Taliban government in Kabul has appointed Suhail Shaheen as its representative to the United Nations, demanding that it be allowed to represent Afghanistan in the international body. But so far, the U.N. has deferred taking any action to shift its recognition from the Islamic Republic to the Islamic Emirate, mirroring international stalling over the question of recognition.

And thus the conflict over Afghanistan’s U.N. seat widens, with not only the Taliban calling for their representative to be seated, but now apparent infighting within the remnants of the republic government.

Atmar fled Afghanistan on August 16,  catching a plane to Istanbul with Afghan Second Vice President Sarwar Danish and Ahmad Zia Sraj, the head of the National Directorate of Security, as well as other senior government officials.

In his January 26 statement, Faiq echoed the criticisms of many that the Ghani government was irresponsible in fleeing the country rather than negotiating, dooming the country to the current humanitarian disaster in the wake of the Taliban’s victory by force. 

“The people of Afghanistan will never forgive traitors for the betrayal of Afghanistan’s national values and interests,” he said. Faiq went on to underscore the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan and the need for quick, serious, humanitarian assistance. He also urged the formation of an inclusive and accountable government, so Afghanistan can move forward. He laid out concerns about women and girls in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and called on the group to make good on its promises, of a “general amnesty” and allowing women to work. Faiq also stressed the need to get intra-Afghan negotiations going again, but importantly made the point that those involved in corruption in the past government should not be included. 

The question of who represents Afghanistan is critical, but no one has asked Afghans recently. There are several possible choices (none great) for the international community at the moment: Sticking with the government of Ashraf Ghani and those he appointed; recognizing the Taliban government holding power in Kabul presently; or recognizing and supporting some kind of resistance movement (such as the National Resistance Front). The best option, in terms of long-term outcomes, may be to consult the greatest number of Afghans possible on the question of what next, but that would necessitate the above three groups to agree to possibly lose a chance at power and position.