ponzio1_Paula BronsteinGetty Images_UNafghanistan Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

The Least Bad Option for Afghanistan

There are plenty of reasons to be deeply skeptical about the Taliban, but working with them may be the only way to prevent further violence and head off a humanitarian disaster. And here, the United Nations has a critical role to play.

WASHINGTON, DC – After the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York last month, the UN is being asked to take on an outsize role in Afghanistan. The Taliban are eagerly seeking international legitimacy, and global and regional powers should extend it – but only when certain political and humanitarian conditions are met, in line with recent official statements and UN Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan.

The UN is well-placed to facilitate this process. During the past four decades of nearly continuous war in Afghanistan, the UN remained engaged. Thousands of dedicated UN staff assumed extraordinary risks to alleviate human suffering and, in the late 1990s, facilitate negotiations between the Taliban and their rivals. Today, given the West’s almost non-existent political leverage with the group, the UN must resume its central role in promoting reconciliation, providing humanitarian aid, and encouraging development.

These functions will require additional structures, staffing, and resources. On September 17, the Security Council approved a six-month extension of the current mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and asked UN Secretary-General António Guterres to provide “strategic and operational recommendations” for the mission’s future by January 31, 2022. Looking ahead, the UN’s role in Afghanistan should be expanded in at least five key areas.

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