Blog Post

Relief Is Not Enough: A Mandate for Diplomacy in Afghanistan

Broader political discourse with the Taliban is needed to prevent humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.

Last week, members of the G20 met to discuss the increasingly dire situation in Afghanistan. Major donors seem to be coalescing around a similar position: providing immediate humanitarian assistance and emergency relief to get Afghans through the immediate crisis, but stopping short of anything that might be seen as recognition or support for the Taliban government. In short, it is an effort to try to help the Afghan people without helping the Taliban. While the impetus is understandable, this approach is likely to backfire, and betrays a lack of strategic thinking about the sort of political dialogue and engagement that may be necessary to protect Afghans, and international interests in the near term.

Looming Crisis, Emerging Pariah

The situation in Afghanistan right now is a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. With banks closed, international assets frozen, and sanctions and border blockages halting most economic assistance and official trade, the economic system is in freefall. Government salaries have not been paid in months and the cost of basic goods is rising. The economic situation, together with lingering effects from the fighting and mass displacement over the summer and a COVID-19 situation that continues out of control, have seriously strained even basic humanitarian and livelihood systems. An estimated 36 per cent of Afghans face food insecurity, a number that will likely increase as the Afghan winter approaches and if the alarming warnings of the worst drought in 35 years bear out. Current estimates suggest that some 18 million, almost half the population, are in need of critical, life-saving care in the coming period.

Such statistics, and the likely scale of human suffering coming this winter, have spurred major international donors to release humanitarian aid in the last few weeks, notwithstanding their objections to the Taliban’s takeover and steps since assuming power. In last week’s summit, the EU announced USD 1.15 billion in humanitarian aid going forward, covering humanitarian and health support in-country as well as support to Afghans who fled to nearby countries. Already in September, the US had announced an additional USD 64 million in humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees elsewhere.

However, while the additional pledges are substantial, it is important to recognize the (intentionally) narrow scope of these aid flows. After the Taliban assumed control of Kabul on 15 August, major donors like the US and European States suspended their overall bilateral assistance, the World Bank halted disbursements, and the IMF blocked access to its credit and asset lines. As a result, external donor assistance, which had previously supported some 75 percent of the Afghan Government’s expenditures, has been cut off since late August. The US Treasury froze the Afghanistan Central Bank’s foreign currency reserves, which sit mostly in US banks, and suspended currency deliveries. With the Taliban’s assumption of control, long-standing US and UN sanctions on the Taliban became applicable to Afghanistan as a whole, barring other private financial transactions and also creating potential penalties for those engaged in aid and development work. The only reason that the humanitarian aid that has been pledged can be provided is that the US Treasury issued limited exceptions to its Afghanistan sanctions, known as licenses, to certain humanitarian goods, services, and activities.

The Taliban has requested that all these financial sanctions, holds, and penalties be lifted and that its status as the Afghan Government be officially recognized. So far, major donors and the international community have resisted. International donors do not want to be seen as rewarding an insurgent group’s assumption of control by force, particularly one with as egregious a human rights record as the Taliban. Only two months into this new regime, there have already been numerous allegations of war crimes and rights violations against the Taliban regime and its fighters – from extrajudicial killings of former Afghan security force members, to abuse and intimidation of protestors, journalists, and activists, to the mass disenfranchisement of women and girls. Women have been blocked from work across a range of industries and sectors; girls’ schools above a primary level are still mostly shuttered nationwide; and women in some local areas have been prevented from leaving their homes unchaperoned.

Nor has the Taliban sought to assuage fears through a more moderate and inclusive governing approach. There have been worrying signs of a reversion to the Taliban’s harsh 1990s approach to law and governance. One of its first acts was to reinstitute the controversial Ministry for Vice and Virtue (gallingly, installing it in the former headquarters of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs), and senior leaders have promised to bring back the use of amputations and executions as punishment. In response to outrage over these and other measures, Taliban leaders have rejected interference in its laws and internal affairs. Rather than extending an olive branch to competing ethnic or political constituencies, the newly formed Taliban government is nearly all-male, all-Pashtun, and all Taliban, with only a sprinkling of other ethnic or political representation at the lower levels. Many fear that this exclusion of key constituencies from the government, in a country as diverse, multi-ethnic, and divided as Afghanistan, will lead to further instability in the future.

Holding the Line, with Humanitarian Exceptions

The very serious nature of Taliban violations, combined with the equally serious humanitarian, economic, and security stakes of the situation, have created a vicious policy dilemma. Relaxing sanctions and financial freezes and granting recognition to the Taliban, despite their many transgressions, would be a serious break from international precedent and would also risk giving away the carrots and sticks that might otherwise be used to induce better behaviour. However, failing to staunch the humanitarian and economic crisis could lead to State collapse, the immediate suffering of millions, mass migration flows, and substantial economic and security ripple effects for the broader region. This dilemma is all the more acute because, unlike in other situations where recognition or international support has been withheld, here there is no rival claimant to the Taliban government. There is no alternate government waiting in the wings that could stand in if the Taliban collapsed or were pushed out, and after the spectacular failure of international withdrawal, there is absolutely no appetite for any form of international intervention.

Facing this dilemma, donors and leading international figures have tried to square the circle by holding the line on recognition, sanctions and larger financial freezes until certain conditions are met, but still allowing some humanitarian aid to flow to the population in the interim. At a regional conference on Afghanistan hosted in Moscow this week, which included a Taliban government delegation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov directly states that official recognition of the Taliban was not under discussion and called for a “really inclusive” Afghan Government, of all ethnicities and political stripes. However, the larger finding of the conference was that notwithstanding holds on recognition and funding, the US and UN needed to step up with greater humanitarian aid to avert the immediate crisis. There was no US delegation at this week’s conference, but President Biden and US senior officials have previously stated that while humanitarian support to the Afghan people will continue, the US will not consider lifting sanctions, unfreezing Afghan assets, or other government assistance without changes in the Taliban’s conduct, in particular regarding human rights. The EU position is similar: though the EU committed to the emergency humanitarian assistance noted above, all other development aid and government assistance remain on hold as the EU continues to evaluate Taliban compliance with five key benchmarks, including on human rights, the situation of women and girls, and inclusive governance.

Withholding formal recognition and continuing to bar larger financial flows or economic support is clearly intended to preserve some levers over the Taliban, keeping a degree of conditionality on issues like human rights or inclusive governance. However, while the desire to provide some humanitarian relief without compromising the larger position vis-à-vis the Taliban is understandable, it is unlikely to work for three interconnected reasons. First, the level and type of assistance this position will generate will be insufficient to address the immediate suffering or to avert the larger economic crisis. Second, this hair-splitting over recognition and financial support is unlikely to shift Taliban behaviour, certainly not immediately. Third, establishing a humanitarian aid-only approach now, and narrowing the channel of political dialogue, may limit the prospects for addressing Taliban behaviour and preventing further rights abuses in the future.

On the humanitarian front, getting Afghans through this winter will require more than blankets and tents. The type and level of assistance needed to address humanitarian shortfalls will inevitably require support to the Afghan (now, Taliban) Government and wider inputs into the Afghan economy, including a broader relaxation of sanctions and funding freezes. Humanitarian relief, and particularly health, tend to depend on a much larger architecture of government services and goods in the market. Charities will not be able to operate if cell phone towers fail because telecommunications firms cannot get enough hard currency to import spare repair parts. The provision of vaccines or medical supplies will be of little use if hospitals and medical centres shut down because government health workers are not paid. Shortfalls in other government services – for example, the sanitation system and shortages in electricity and gas – could lead to even worse health and humanitarian conditions in the near future.

In recognition of these challenges, the EU has a policy of providing “humanitarian plus” support: enabling not only humanitarian aid but also other forms of assistance necessary to meet humanitarian and emergency needs. Although the exact scope of this “plus” has not yet been determined, it might be used to justify paying health sector salaries or other government support that would otherwise be blocked. However, even this “plus” extension is likely to be insufficient. Even if the humanitarian plus approach allowed government health workers to be paid, hospitals would struggle if electricity is unavailable because Afghanistan (which imports over 80 percent of the electricity for its national grids) cannot pay its bills. No amount of “humanitarian plus” or emergency assistance will address the worsening economic situation, which is as much a driver of migration right now as the political or humanitarian pressures.

There have been other proposals for development aid that addresses the economic crisis but does not go through the Taliban government. Just this week, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) announced a new development fund, the “people’s economy” fund, which would avoid Taliban government assistance by providing cash to community groups and workers (including those involved in public works programmes) or micro-grants to Afghan businesses. Germany has already pledged USD 58 million to the initiative. However, it is unclear how much could practically (and rapidly) flow through such bottom-up, community-level assistance, and whether the intended firewalls (for example, providing cash to the workers involved in public works projects but not the attached government ministries themselves) will actually hold up. It could end up simply being a slower, less efficient prop to the Afghan economy while still indirectly supporting the Taliban government.

On the other side of the ledger, the withholding of larger (beyond humanitarian) assistance and recognition is unlikely to move the Taliban’s position and practices as intended. The Taliban will not change overnight. Despite already tremendous financial pressure, the Taliban shows no inclination to reorganize its government, incorporating other ethnic groups and erstwhile enemies into it, or to reinterpret the vision of Islamic law and gender roles that it has held to for several decades. In addition, the nuances of the current international position – meeting with the Taliban as the de facto governing power but not recognizing them as the government, providing humanitarian aid (which, with the “plus” approach includes some development aid) but not other support – are likely to be lost on the Taliban, undercutting much of the potential for such line-drawing to shift Taliban positions. As more government assistance comes online and more sanctions are relaxed, the Taliban government could interpret the message that assistance would not be foreclosed even in the face of egregious human rights abuses.

The more likely trajectory is that rather than changing Taliban behaviour in the short term, the current position of frozen funding and recognition, with carve-outs for humanitarian and humanitarianize support, will calcify into a multi-year position. This would be damaging on both humanitarian and political grounds. Donors will dilute their redlines around Taliban behaviour, while still failing to stave off dire conditions for millions, with subsequent regional and international ripple effects that could cause widespread instability and mass migration.

In addition, setting the baseline at a humanitarian-only conversation in these early stages may damage the prospects for conditionality and engagement on key political and human rights issues in the long term. It is still early in the relationship with the Taliban government, meaning the scope of discussion now will set the tone for future deliberations. Right now, the scope of that discussion is incredibly narrow. Diplomats and international representatives from a range of States and multilateral institutions have held back from any form of engagement that might be construed as de facto recognition of the Taliban. Where bilateral or multilateral meetings have occurred, the agenda has been tightly constrained to “operational engagement,” largely short-term, immediate logistical and coordination issues. For example, following the first US-Taliban meeting since the takeover, which took place in Doha earlier this month, US took pains to emphasize that the meeting was “not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy” on the Taliban regime, but was simply “pragmatic engagement” on areas of interest.

As a result, in the current moment, although international representatives continue to demand better rights protection and inclusive governance of the Taliban, the immediate demands and “asks” that are being prioritized relate predominantly to access. In the US-Taliban meeting in Doha, the leading discussion point was enabling evacuations and foreign citizen departures, followed by coordinating aid delivery and concerns about ISIS-K. In the EU’s five criteria for engaging the Taliban, the leading condition is not women’s rights or more inclusive governance, but allowing “the safe, secure and orderly departure of all foreign nationals, and Afghans who wish to leave the country.” According to those engaged in lower-level functional meetings with the Taliban, staff of diplomatic delegations, UN officials, and other international aid agencies spend the large share of their time negotiating access or evacuation for staff, or coordinating aid delivery, rather than the larger political issues that are the underlying source of the current crisis.

This sets a dangerous precedent for the future, one in which the outer perimeters of international demands solely concern access. The international community’s engagement with the Houthi-led government in northern Yemen offers a cautionary tale on this front. Lack of unity among different international donors and the Houthis’ willingness to use their population’s suffering as a negotiating point created a least-common denominator situation for international assistance – the only conditionality concerned which donors or aid agencies the Houthis would allow in, and to which populations, at any given point.

The current dynamics foreshadow a similar trajectory in Afghanistan. By allowing a more robust political – including rights-based – conversation to lapse at this crucial moment, it sets up future discourse to be not how the Taliban will improve its record of governing, security, and rights protection, but which donors it will allow in. The Taliban would effectively be able to hold the population hostage, with the only condition being to provide aid as the Taliban likes, or watch millions starve, or a renewed migration crisis with ripple effects across the region or in Europe.

Hardline donor conditions on human rights and inclusive governance are unlikely to yield changes in Taliban behaviour in the short term. But continued international attention to these issues may yield results if it is part of a long-term political conversation and in concert with the right ingredients and pressures on the ground, supported by active documentation and space for international monitors or civil society to raise concerns. Focusing only on narrow humanitarian and operational issues now misses a strategic opportunity to structure the dialogue and the international relationship with the Taliban in a way that may keep the larger political issues live for future discussion.

A Long-Term Strategic Approach and the Scope of UN Engagement

Avoiding this trajectory requires an immediate shift in thinking and the development of a long-term framework for engagement that preserves space for monitoring, documentation and discussion of rights or governance issues, both in Afghanistan and in the international discourse. First, there must be a recognition that getting the Afghan people through the winter and the immediate crisis will require stepping back from a “humanitarian only” or even “humanitarian plus” mentality. Even Human Rights Watch – not an organization to give the Taliban a pass – argued that in light of the coming humanitarian crisis, the shortfalls in food, education and health cannot be met without creating “a plan to address assistance directly involving the Taliban.” This would require not only opening up thinking about the type of assistance that is necessary, but also relaxing some of the sanctions, funding freezes, and redline conditions that have been placed on the Taliban government, while also considering broader measures to halt the Afghan economy’s current spiral.

Although a full relaxation of these diplomatic and financial levers may be too unpalatable to accept, donors might simply decide to do what was necessary to get Afghanistan through the winter and allow for a temporary relaxation of funding freezes and sanctions. This could then be revisited in six months or after a set period of transition time. Rather than waiving the prospect of conditionality, this might extend the window of it by establishing a test period for the Taliban to demonstrate improvement.

Second, there needs to be a dedicated effort to develop long-term processes and pathways for engagement, and structures and processes that are more likely to result in long-term changes or progress on core issues. To get there, though, there first needs to be a more robust political dialogue with the Taliban, one not purely cabined to humanitarian aid and immediate access issues. The issues currently cited for barring deeper engagement (the Taliban’s military conquest, its status as a terrorist group, its reputation on human rights, and their troubling governance approach) are exactly the reason that a political conversation cannot be put aside or shunted. Conditioning any discourse on the Taliban first meeting certain redlines over the nature of their government – i.e., its degree of inclusivity, its interpretation of Islamic law and of human rights, or its treatment of women – is unlikely to shift the Taliban position immediately. Instead, this approach is likely to reproduce the sort of isolation, economic pressures, and internal instability that pushed the Taliban to its most extreme positions in the 1990s. These issues must be addressed, but productively raising and addressing these issues can only happen in the context of a political dialogue and through a framework that encourages coherence and coordination among international actors involved.

Each of the major international donors involved, but particularly the US, needs to shift gears from the immediate crisis response mode, which has dominated since August, into the next steps of crafting a policy position that allows for long-term engagement in an Afghanistan that is governed by the Taliban. Evacuations of citizens and eligible Afghans, resettlement of Afghans abroad, and coordination of immediate emergency relief are all important issues but they do not an Afghanistan policy make.

This shift will be difficult for many countries to make on a bilateral basis. Many countries would balk at any resumption of diplomatic relations, much less a more fulsome and well-funded engagement strategy. Neither the US nor other NATO countries will want to continue the level of Afghan Government financial and technical support maintained over the last two decades in support of a regime with extremist sympathies (and members), a totalitarian approach to governing, and seemingly intent on disenfranchising more than half the population. The Biden Administration in particular has been motivated by a desire to step back from Afghanistan and to not get more involved.

However, depending purely (or even mostly) on a bilateral approach is likely not the right answer here. Addressing the security and rights presented by Taliban control requires a much broader effort among a range of international and regional actors. All of this points to a more prominent role for the UN and specifically the UN political mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Relying more on UN mechanisms and auspices may spread the burden and alleviate some of the political pressures associated with more intensive bilateral negotiations. The UN is also well positioned to assume a more prominent role in Afghanistan, with a long history of both humanitarian operations and political mediation stretching back to the previous Taliban regime and beyond. Last, while not all members of the Security Council have aligned interests in and vision for Afghanistan, there should still be enough of a common interest in stabilizing the situation and containing negative security or economic spillover effects to reach an agreement on UN engagement.

Several upcoming UN processes and benchmarks will be crucial in kickstarting the sort of engagement process and framework needed. The first surrounds the issue of UN credentialling, as well as other related recognition processes, and the second involves the reauthorization and reshaping of the UNAMA mandate. Although these processes will not erase the challenges of Taliban engagement, the way that these issues are handled in the next few months could be one step forward in developing a better pathway for future engagement – one that balances long-term human rights protection with immediate crisis prevention.

UN Credentialling and Recognition Processes

In the weeks leading up to the UN General Assembly in September, the Taliban government requested permission for its nominated representative to address the Assembly. Before an individual can be recognized to represent a Member State, their credentials must be reviewed and approved by a rotating nine-member committee (representatives of the US, Russia, and China, plus six other countries chosen based on regional representation). The Credentials Committee declined to make a decision on the request in September but should be reviewing the decision in the coming weeks, with a possible decision as early as November.

Historically, UN credentialling was more of a formality, recognizing the credentials of those duly appointed by a government in control of the territory in question. However, increasingly since the 1970s, questions of a regime’s human rights record have also been invoked to try to bar certain representatives from being recognized. The credentialling process does not allow for a quid pro quo, and for demanding specific conditions or changes in practice in exchange for the degree of recognition it confers. However, the importance of this decision is certainly something that could be communicated to the Taliban and used as a way to raise awareness within the Taliban of what State responsibilities and obligations it assumes in requesting recognition as the official government. For example, at such a weighty moment, it would be worth reminding the Taliban of what State responsibilities (vis-à-vis one’s citizens and other Member States) involves, the scope of Afghanistan’s treaty obligations, and the role of different UN bodies’ in monitoring Member States’ compliance with those obligations. Think of it as awareness-raising on State obligations, but with a more forceful end result (UN participation) attached.

While such awareness-raising may seem obvious or banal, those involved in the Taliban negotiations or dialogue over the last few years have often noted the lack of awareness of the Taliban on a number of core policy points. Thus, there may be value in using credentialling, or other recognition processes, as more forceful awareness-raising on what State responsibility invokes.

The decision of the Credentials Committee is not an all-clear, and in all likelihood would be the first step in a long road to full recognition and participation. Even if the Credentials Committee approves or certifies a given representatives’ credentials, Member States can raise objections in the General Assembly. In the past they have done so, challenging a government’s credentials or its representatives’ right to speak (in the General Assembly or other fora) where the government in question was imposed by force (such as Hungary in 1956), following a military coup (Madagascar in 2009), or based on allegations that the regime in question has violated international law (i.e. with recurring debates over Israel and its treatment of the Palestinian territories and over South Africa during Apartheid). The Taliban government’s record so far would raise flags on all fronts, and it likely will have to defend its record and engage in dialogue about its practices in order to maintain full participation.

Each of these debates about credentialling or other recognition steps might provide opportunities to reinforce upon the Taliban what its responsibilities and obligations are, in a way that is more concrete and pointed than the current donor press statements allow for. This would be an important prod in the right direction, but it would likely not be sufficient on its own. This sort of informal diplomatic pressure would be more effective if combined with more regular dialogue and engagement with parts of the Taliban government on crucial issues, both at higher levels and on a lower-level functional basis – the sort of regular engagement and work possible within the context of a UN political mission.

UNAMA Mandate Discussions

UNAMA’s mandate came up for renewal in September. At the time, events were moving so quickly that the Security Council opted for a temporary or provisional renewal, only until 17 March 2022. Given the fast-changing situation, Council members also requested that the Secretary-General report back by 31 January 2022, a report that would presumably inform the nature of subsequent mandate and renewal discussions. The question of whether UNAMA’s mandate will be renewed, and the scope of it, represents a significant litmus test on whether the international community is able to develop a coordinated strategy for approaching the multi-faceted challenges in Afghanistan. Given the issues noted above, it is crucial not only that it is renewed, but that it includes roles and responsibilities beyond purely coordinating humanitarian aid.

As a first step, getting the UNAMA mandate renewed, and with the right level of engagement, will require a more concerted political dialogue than is currently ongoing. Crafting an appropriate political mandate will involve delicate balancing between competing donor concerns and positions and against what the Taliban will accept. Striking the right balance will require substantial negotiation and discussion between UN representatives and the Taliban, and between and among Member States. This sort of discourse is currently impeded by sensitivities over recognition and by the fact that the UN mission and leading donor States remain absorbed in evacuation, staffing and relocation needs, as well as other immediate access issues. For constructive recommendations to be developed before the end of January, and an appropriate mandate to be renewed in March, the bilateral and multilateral conversations need to shift gears and be more seized with the future political dialogue and framework for engagement.

In terms of the shape of that mandate, while some existing components of the UNAMA mandate are uncontroversial – such as coordinating humanitarian aid or facilitating regional economic cooperation and shared development goals – others would require substantial modification. While the components aimed at coordination with the NATO mission and a mediating role in the now-defunct Afghan peace process have now been outstripped by current events, the underlying issues that motivated them – coordination on transnational security threats and a “good offices” role in intra-Afghan conflict – are still valid. The prior UNAMA mandates also included components on supporting credible and inclusive elections, or the Afghan Government’s ability to make progress on good governance and the rule of law. These may not be viable as fully-fledged support programmes at the moment, but the general issues sets might still be addressed under a general mandate for political engagement, with scope to build particular functions or issue sets out as is applicable and as the relationship allows.

Perhaps the most crucial element under discussion will be the scope and resourcing of UNAMA’s human rights mandate. UNAMA’s human rights pillar has been one of its core features and strongest portfolios in the past. It has enjoyed an expansive scope, with key issue sets – ranging from detention monitoring, to women’s empowerment, to protection of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission – explicitly protected in the mandate. It has also been one of the most active and strongest units in the past, and arguably the part of UNAMA with the most long-standing dialogue with the Taliban. Long before talking with the Taliban was politically tolerable, representatives of UNAMA’s human rights unit engaged in regular dialogue with the Taliban on international law obligations and allegations of war crimes and violations. The Taliban accepted UNAMA representatives into Taliban-controlled territory for fact-finding missions, exchanged with them on their version of international humanitarian law, and responded to UNAMA critiques and allegations.

A robust human rights mandate and fully resourced unit in-country will be particularly important to preserve if some of the current conditionality redlines are relaxed, as argued above. Having a core team monitoring conditions on the ground, working with Afghan institutions and civil society, and engaging in day-to-day dialogue with Taliban representatives at different levels is far more likely to move the needle on controversial Taliban positions over time than hardline donor demands and conditions intermittently reinforced at donor pledging moments. It is also the only way to preserve a modicum of space for Afghan journalists, Afghan civil society, or other minority voices who wish to raise issues with the Taliban’s hardline governing approach, ensuring greater prospects of accountability and inclusivity in the future. Preserving this part of UNAMA could thus lend important traction on crucial rights issues, especially in combination with other UN-mandated (like the recently commissioned Special Rapporteur) and bilateral donor pressure.

At first glance, human rights might appear to be a controversial element for renewal, both in terms of winning the Taliban’s acceptance and in terms of Security Council agreement. Nonetheless, because of its long track record and pre-existing relationship with the Taliban, the UNAMA human rights unit at least has something to build from – arguably more so than other parts of the UNAMA mission. Moreover, under fire from a vociferous expatriate lobby, it is not inconceivable that the Taliban would want to keep some version of UN human rights monitoring as a neutral fact-checking organization. It may, at a minimum, want a UN human rights body to monitor atrocities by ISIS-K, among other armed group activity.

On the side of Security Council authorization, already the framing around human rights issues was one of the more contentious issues in the debate over temporarily extending UNAMA’s mandate in September. However, having a fully throated human rights mission is something that the Security Council has managed to pass in Afghanistan for most of the last twenty years despite similar objections. There is enough common interest across the Security Council in helping to stabilize Afghanistan and preventing regional repercussions to get this demand through if it was given sufficient priority, and not held hostage to the political engagement debate.

Conclusion: Toward a More Robust Political Dialogue

Neither of these two immediate steps or processes are sufficient to cure all the challenges of engaging with the Taliban. There is much more thinking that has to be done about the modalities of assistance and engagement, particularly if something less than full recognition is accorded. In addition, the scope of the humanitarian, economic, and security challenges will not be quickly resolved, even if there is a concerted decision to do what it takes to get Afghanistan through the next six months. However, the additional thinking and discussion about how to go beyond these immediate steps will not happen in a vacuum. In the current climate of frozen political dialogue, there is barely any day-to-day discussion going on with Taliban officials about the nature of international engagement, allowing for no forward progress on international conditions and demands. To reverse this trend, it is crucial that the dialogue move beyond immediate emergency measures and evacuation, and even beyond purely humanitarian aid. The tone of these conversations must not get bogged down in mundane details that are better left to humanitarian officials with technical expertise. Diplomats, and the UN mission within that, should be given a mandate for diplomacy with the Taliban, allowing for progress to be made on both alleviating immediate humanitarian needs and working to address serious deficits in rights protections and governance in the long term.

Suggested citation: Gaston Erica., "Relief Is Not Enough: A Mandate for Diplomacy in Afghanistan," UNU-CPR (blog), 2021-10-22,

Related content


Thematic Review on Human Rights and Peacebuilding

Evaluating the Peacebuilding Fund's role in fostering synergies between human rights and peacebuilding.

09 Feb 2024


Modern Slavery Risks Among People Lacking Official Documentation

This project examines modern slavery risks among people lacking documentation globally, including in Brazil, Kenya, and Nepal.

18 Jan 2024


Global Governance and Sustainable Development: Revitalizing Research to Support Multilateral Solutions

TOKYO: On 20–22 June 2024, UNU will co-organize the Academic Council on the United Nations System Annual Meeting 2024.