New Afghan Sanctions Target Taliban Terrorist Training Centers
The latest set of sanctions put in place by the United Nations on Afghanistan target the one side in the continuing conflict that both the United States and Russia have found common cause in opposing the Taliban.
Washington and Moscow -- erstwhile adversaries during the 1979-89 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan -- are pressuring the Taliban to close alleged terrorist training camps. The United States and Russia also seek the surrender of suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. The Saudi Arabian renegade has been charged in the United States with plotting the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998.
The December 19 resolution tightens an existing flight embargo and a freeze on the Taliban's assets put in place in October 1999, when the UN first sought the handover of bin Laden.
By agreeing with the United States to impose an arms embargo and block all military assistance and training to the Taliban, Russia is hoping the additional pressure will prompt the Taliban to honor international obligations. "The problem is that the Taliban has never delivered on a single promise, be this to start the dialogue, be this to stop fighting, be this to treat women and girls properly, or any other demand from the Security Council to stop the support for terrorism," said Russia's UN representative Sergei Lavrov.
US representative Nancy Soderberg told the Security Council that the United States had a specific message in introducing new sanctions. "The Taliban cannot continue to flout the will of the international community and support and shelter terrorists without repercussions," she said. "As long as the Taliban leadership continues to harbor terrorists - in particular Osama bin Laden - and to promote terrorism, it remains a threat to international peace and security.
The diplomatic collaboration on Afghanistan also marks a shift in US policy, according to analysts. "The Russians have also been cooperating and developing a common stand toward the Taliban with the Iranians and the Indians," said Raymond Garthoff, a former US State Department official and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution. "And of course our own relations with Iran are very tenuous and mixed."
While the primary US goals are apprehending bin Laden and shutting down Taliban support of terrorist activities against American interests, the United States also has geo-political concerns, according to Garthoff. "The United States also would like to see a settlement of the situation within Afghanistan and a moderated course on the part of the Taliban, internally and in connection with Tajikistan and other areas," he said.
US officials say sanctions against Afghanistan are meant only to deal with terrorism. They are not intended to detract from a peace process, under UN auspices, between the Taliban and the movement's main opposition the Northern Alliance led by Ahmad Shah Masood.
In November, the Secretary General's Special Representative Francesc Vendrell mediated an agreement by which Afghanistan's warring factions would engage in direct high level negotiations. Earlier this month, delegations representing the two sides met in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, the first face-to-face meeting in more than a year. Reports quoted a Turkmen official at the meeting as saying that peace talks could resume in January.
Taliban representatives have been critical of the new UN sanctions. "The United Nations organization is working for the superpowers, not for the people of the world," said Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, the Taliban's representative in New York. "The alliance of the United States and the Russian Federation is killing our people by hunger. It is only to create instability in the region and to continue war in Afghanistan."
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said before the vote on Tuesday that the new sanctions would not facilitate peace efforts or humanitarian work in Afghanistan. He said he had made his views clear to the Security Council, but that it was the Council's decision to make. In anticipation of a violent retaliation against UN relief workers, the United Nations withdrew all its international staff from Afghanistan in the days leading up to the vote.
The resolution was adopted Tuesday by a 13-0 vote, with China and Malaysia abstaining. It reiterates the UN's call for the Taliban to turn over bin Laden to a country where he can be brought to justice. It also directs the Taliban to close down all terrorist camps operating on territory it controls within 30 days. In addition to prohibiting the sale of arms and training to the Taliban, the resolution also calls on all states to close Taliban offices, as well as those of Ariana Afghan Airlines; to deny aircraft permission to take off or land on their territory; and to restrict the travel of all senior level Taliban officials. The resolution makes allowances for humanitarian flights and other aid.
In a move that US officials say is aimed at cutting off another source of Taliban income, the resolution also prevents the sale, supply or transfer to Afghanistan of acetic anhydride, a chemical used in the production of opium. The sanctions are valid for one year and require further Council action to extend them.
Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.