United Nations, Jun 27: The UN political chief who will chair the first meeting between Afghanistan's Taliban rulers and envoys from about 25 countries answered sharp criticism that Afghan women have been excluded, saying Wednesday that women's rights will be raised at every session.

Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo stressed to a small group of reporters that the two-day meeting starting Sunday is an initial engagement aimed at initiating a step-by-step process with the goal of seeing the Taliban “at peace with itself and its neighbours and adhering to international law,” the UN Charter, and human rights.

This is the third UN meeting with Afghan envoys in Qatar's capital, Doha, but the first that the Taliban are attending. They weren't invited to the first and refused to attend the second.

Other attendees include envoys from the European Union, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the United States, Russia, China and several of Afghanistan's neighbours, DiCarlo said.

The Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021 as United States and NATO forces withdrew following two decades of war. No country officially recognises them as Afghanistan's government, and the UN has said that recognition is almost impossible while bans on female education and employment remain in place and women can't go out without a male guardian.

When DiCarlo met with senior Taliban officials in Kabul in May, she said she made clear that the international community is concerned about four things: the lack of an inclusive government, the denial of human rights especially for women and girls, and the need to combat terrorism and the narcotics trade.

“The issue of inclusive governance, women's rights, human rights writ large, will be a part of every single session,” she said. “This is important, and we will hear it again and again, I'm sure from quite a number of us.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticized the United Nations for not having Afghan women and civil society representatives at the table with the Taliban.

DiCarlo described the meeting as a process. "This is not an inter-Afghan dialogue,” she stressed. “I would hope we could get to that someday, but we're not there.”

The Taliban's foreign ministry on Tuesday reiterated the concerns they want to raise — restrictions on Afghanistan's financial and banking system, development of the private sector, and countering drug trafficking. DiCarlo said they also raised Afghanistan's vulnerability to climate change.

She said discussions on the first day of the Doha meeting on Sunday will focus on how the world would engage with the Taliban to achieve the objectives of peace and its adherence to international law and human rights.

The assessment calls for a step-by-step process, where each side would respond to actions taken by the other.

On the second day, the participants will discuss the private sector, including getting more women into the workforce through microfinance projects, as well as counter-narcotics efforts, such as alternative livelihoods and support for drug addicts, she said.

“Hopefully, it will achieve some progress, but it will be slow,” DiCarlo said.

She stressed that the meeting isn't about the Taliban and doesn't signify any recognition of Afghan's rulers as the country's official government. “That's not in the cards,” she said.

“This is about Afghanistan and the people and their need to feel a part of the international community and have the kinds of support and services and opportunities that others have — and they're pretty blocked off right now,” DiCarlo said.

Before the meeting, the UN political chief met with the Afghan diaspora. After the meeting on Tuesday, she said the UN and the envoys will meet with civil society representatives including women, and private sector representatives mainly living in Afghanistan. (AP)