Meet Suhail Shaheen: Taliban's 'soft-spoken, calm' spokesperson named as UN envoy

The Taliban, Afghanistan's new rulers, have nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan's United Nations amba...

The Taliban, Afghanistan's new rulers, have nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan's United Nations ambassador.

This comes after the Taliban said they wanted to address world leaders at the UN.

According to an Associated Press report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres received a letter on 15 September with the letterhead "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs," signed by "Ameer Khan Muttaqi" as "Minister of Foreign Affairs," requesting to participate in the UN gathering of world leaders.

The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the UN ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan's government ousted last month by the Taliban.

So, who is Suhal Shaheen and why is the Taliban seeking to speak at the UN?

Suhail Shaheen’s life

Born in the Paktia Province of Afghanistan, Suhail Shaheen is a fluent English speaker and prolific writer.

He edited the English-language, state-owned Kabul Times during the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, before being appointed deputy ambassador at the Afghan Embassy in Pakistan.

He now serves as spokesman for the Taliban Political Office in Qatar.

These days, Suhail Shaheen is the face of the Taliban and is being seen all over the world as the group's effort to present a more sensitive and liberal image.

Analysts have described him as soft-spoken and media savvy, making him important to the Taliban, who are seeking global recognition.

Shortly after the Taliban took over Afghanistan, it was Shaheen who had addressed the media saying that Afghanistan’s reborn Islamic Emirate wouldn't take revenge on political rivals, wouldn't stop girls from going to school, and wouldn't enforce the burqa.

A former BBC journalist writing in The Quint, described Shaheen as: “He was everything that you don’t expect a Taliban representative to be -- calm, courteous, composed, and willing to answer questions and enter into conversation rather than simply ram home a message. And he was unnervingly prophetic in predicting a very, very long war”.

Shaheen’s views on India

In an interview with News18, Shaheen spoke about how the Taliban would interact with India. He had very calmly put, “India should remain at least impartial in the Afghan issue, rather than supporting an occupation-born government".

He also said that the Taliban had "the right" to speak "for Muslims in Kashmir". In an interview to BBC, he had said: "As Muslims, we also have a right to raise our voice for Muslims in Kashmir, India or any other country."

This was the first time the group commented on Kashmir, raising eyebrows in New Delhi.

Seeking recognition

The Taliban have been doing their own outreach, seeking recognition from world powers.

For those wondering why the Taliban has been engaging with world leaders, Scott R Anderson, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and senior editor for Lawfare, explained it in a concise manner: "Recognition brings governments... lot of international legal benefits."

This would include diplomatic immunities, for example, which means Taliban leaders can travel outside the country without the risk of getting arrested.

While some experts say that an Afghanistan that is integrated in the international community would mean a better economy and less suffering in the country. On the other, for some Afghans, formal recognition of the Taliban by the international community would be a betrayal of their democratic aspirations.

As of now, Pakistan, Qatar, Iran, Turkey, China and Russia have engaged with Taliban.

“The Taliban will be judged on their actions — how they respect the international commitments made by the country, how they respect basic rules of democracy and rule of law," said Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Union. “The biggest red line is respect for human rights and the rights of women, especially.”

The United States has said the Taliban will be judged on whether they allow freedom of travel for Afghans and foreigners with valid documents, women’s and minority rights and, probably more important for Washington, whether the Taliban prevent international terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base.

“Every step we take will be based not on what a Taliban-led government says, but what it does to live up to its commitments,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Diplomatic recognition would help open direct channels for development aid and sizable loans from countries and institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Taliban at the UN?

Afghanistan is scheduled to give the last speech on the final day of the high-level meeting on 27 September.

However, it is not yet known if the UN credentials committee is going to legitimise the Taliban's request.

An official from the panel told the Associated Press under strict condition of anonymity that the UN committee “would take some time to deliberate”, suggesting the Taliban's envoy would not be able to speak at the General Assembly at this session at least during the high-level leaders' week.

When the Taliban last controlled Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001, the ambassador of the government they overthrew stayed on as a UN representative, after the credentials committee deferred its decision on competing claims for the position.

With inputs from agencies

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India World News: Meet Suhail Shaheen: Taliban's 'soft-spoken, calm' spokesperson named as UN envoy
Meet Suhail Shaheen: Taliban's 'soft-spoken, calm' spokesperson named as UN envoy
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