Afghanistan and Myanmar are two members missing from the global trade meet

When the Taliban seized Kabul 10 months ago, Abdul Ahad Habibi was Afghanistan’s first secretary at the permanent mission in Geneva looking after its affairs in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Even after the change of guard, the Afghan diplomat with three of his colleagues continued to stay back in the Swiss town, claiming that they were the real representatives of Afghanistan.

While talking to ET, Habibi terms Taliban as “barbarians” who have been on a killing spree, terrorising those who were once part and parcel of former president Ashraf Ghani’s regime. He adds the world including India could have done more, but they will never recognise such rogues.

No wonder that, last month, he formally submitted the names of Afghan delegates who would be participating in the WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference starting from June 11, arguing that the consensus-based multilateral organisation must not “delete one of its 164 members”. Afghanistan joined the multilateral body only in 2016 as its youngest member, the 164th.

“We are the true representatives of Afghanistan. The WTO too has given us access to various forums. For MC12 in particular, the problem occurred because Taliban also applied to participate in the June 11-15 global event,” Habibi says, adding how the WTO in an e-mail communication, dated June 8, clearly mentioned “you and another authority requested for participation”. “The other authority is the Taliban,” Habibi quips.

In a reply to ET’s query, WTO spokesman Daniel Pruzin confirms that no representative either from Afghanistan or Myanmar is given access to any negotiations at MC12. That means, two of WTO’s 164 member nations are missing from bustling meetings, conference halls and the so-called green room (an informal name of the director-general's conference room) where members scout for a middle ground.

Pruzin explains, “In light of competing claims for representation to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference received from different Myanmar and Afghanistan parties, the WTO secretariat was not in a position to register or accredit any representative from either member for the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference,” he says, adding that it took into account the ongoing deferral of Myanmar and Afghanistan credentials in the UN General Assembly (UNGA) Credentials Committee, and the practice of other intergovernmental organizations when faced with similar situations of competing representation claims. Myanmar's military junta too is not recognised by the international community.

Habibi, which has been in Geneva since 2019 and is considered well-networked in the WTO, further says he made one last attempt to get into the MC12 as late as on June 13, but he failed to meet the higher ups.

Till Taliban usurped powers in Afghanistan in August 2021, Sayed Rahim Zaiwari was country's ambassador and permanent representative to WTO. But financial hardship forced him and several other diplomats to scout for new jobs. None of the diplomats returned to Afghanistan to work under the Taliban. Zaiwari, for instance, left for the US and managed a full-time job in a UN arm, Habibi informs. While in exile, Habibi now reports to Nasir Andisha, a deputy foreign minister in erstwhile Ghani regime, presently stationed in Geneva.

“We have no income, no privileges. We are somehow managing our finances by taking up odd jobs. We received our regular salary only till June 30, 2021 ( i.e., one and half months before Taliban takeover)”, says Habibi. “Yet we will triumph as the people of Afghanistan won’t accept barbarians for too long”.