The Second Vienna Conference on Afghanistan was held from April 24 to 26 with the participation of nearly 30 anti-Taliban political figures, rights activists, and military commanders. At the end of the conference, the participants issued a declaration to support all forms of resistance against the Taliban and called on the international community to recognize and support of all forms of resistance. Another important outcome was the announcement of plans to create a single national umbrella organization against the Taliban.
The conference participants also drew attention to the systematic exclusion of women from the public sphere as gender apartheid and condemned the UN's silence around the current situation of women and girls in Afghanistan. Michael McCaul, US Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, responded to the conference by commending “the efforts of the anti-Taliban forces to unite against the Taliban's oppression, especially the oppression of Afghan women and girls and the Afghan allies of the United States.”
As the international community is starting to discuss how to engage with the Taliban, the importance of the Vienna conference will continue to grow. According to Ali Maisam Nazary, the Head of Foreign Relations for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRF), the main military resistance group to the Taliban, the purpose of the conference was to build trust and unity between political, civil, and military actors opposed to the Taliban. The conference remains the only platform for the opposition to discuss the current crisis in Afghanistan, speak with one voice, and remind the world of the alternative to Taliban rule there.
Anti-Taliban resistance is unifying
This meeting was a follow-up of the First Vienna Conference held in September 2022. It was organized one year after the Afghan government’s collapse on August 15, 2021, which culminated in the escape of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Afghanistan’s president at the time, from the country. The first conference brought together Afghanistan’s political figures, women’s rights activists, former members of the parliament, journalists, and academics. It concluded with the issuance of a declaration that highlighted political, economic, social, and humanitarian issues brought up by the Taliban rule in the country.
The Taliban took over Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, on August 15, 2021, after 20 years of fighting against the US backed government. The collapse of the Afghan government came after the Doha Agreement, signed between the US and the Taliban on February 29, 2020, without the involvement of the Afghan government. It led to the withdrawal of NATO forces from the country, exposing Afghan National Security Forces vulnerable to the Taliban attacks.
Afghanistan has seen drastic negative changes in the past 21 months since the Taliban came to power. The backsliding has taken place in all spheres of life, including systemic violation of women's and human rights, targeted killing and torture of former militaries, forceful displacement of people from their homes, and ethnic discrimination. All the political power is concentrated in the hands of the Pashtun tribe, to which the Taliban belong. A glaring example of the Taliban caused oppression has been banning women and girls from attending schools and working.
Here is a YouTube video on the situation of women and girls under the Taliban rule.
A caution not to trust the Taliban
As the conference was being held, on April 25, American officials announced that the mastermind behind the attack on the Kabul airport, allegedly a senior member of the ISIS group, was killed by the Taliban. The airport attack took place on August 26, 2021, during the chaotic evacuation operation from Afghanistan, and claimed the lives of 170 Afghan civilians and 13 American soldiers.
The conference declaration warned that the threat of terrorism spreading in the region was growing and called the Taliban statements on fighting terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan nothing more than an illusion.
Here is a Tweet by Ali Maisam Nazary, NRF's foreign relations chief, with the Second Vienna Conference Declaration in Farsi and English.
اعلامیه نشست دوم ویانا
Declaration of the Second Vienna Conference pic.twitter.com/tNfQ5YuKel
— Ali Maisam Nazary (@alinazary) April 26, 2023
One of the most notable participants of the conference was Ahmad Massoud, the NRF leader and son of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, known as the national hero of Afghanistan and the leader of the Northern Alliance, which also fought against the Taliban. Ahmad Massoud called the announcement of the death of a senior member of the ISIS group questionable and a propaganda campaign by the Taliban. He told the reporters:
This is a tactic to change the world's opinion. This is a tactic basically aimed at influencing the Doha meeting, which I hope will not happen because, unfortunately, the behavior, tactics, and mentality of ISIS and the Taliban are similar. These two groups are two sides of the same coin.
Less than a week later, on May 1 and 2, the UN held a closed-door summit in Qatar’s capital Doha with the participation of delegates from 25 countries. The UN statement revealed that the summit’s goal was to “achieve a common understanding within the international community on how to engage with the Taliban” on issues including “human rights, in particular women's and girls’ rights, inclusive governance, countering terrorism and drug trafficking.” No outcomes were revealed, but it was announced that the second meeting will take place in the future.
The absence of any notable outcomes was a major victory for anti-Taliban resistance groups, who feared that the summit would lead to the recognition of the Taliban by the international community. What sparked these speculations was the suggestion by Amina Mohammad, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, that the Doha summit “could find those baby steps to put us back on the pathway to recognition [of the Taliban].”
Afghan women's and human rights activists in Pakistan, the US, and several European countries protested against the UN holding the Doha summit. The women protesters in Kabul chanted “We will fight, we will die to get back our basic rights.” These women's and other anti-Taliban groups operating in Afghanistan and beyond its borders are facing an uphill battle in their struggle to reclaim their rights, way of life, and country.