By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 5, 2007
UNITED NATIONS, July 4 -- Abdul Hakim Monib, the governor of Afghanistan's Uruzgan province, has drawn praise from U.S. military commanders as a partner in the battle against global terrorism, lending crucial political support for international relief and reconstruction projects in territory contested by Taliban insurgents.
But Monib, who served as deputy minister of frontier affairs in the prior Taliban government, is also on a U.N. list of suspected international terrorists, and Russia has repeatedly blocked U.S. and NATO efforts to take him off it.
Monib's case underscores how U.S.-sponsored sanctions in the United Nations can backfire, placing American and NATO commanders in Afghanistan in the awkward position of potentially violating U.N. resolutions by funding programs that benefit Monib.
"We try to engage almost all the governors and elected officials, even if they have somewhat undesirable backgrounds," said Col. John Thomas, a U.S. spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. There are some "reformed Taliban in the government that are quite helpful."
The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on the Taliban in October 1999 for providing a safe haven to Osama bin Laden and for refusing to surrender him to face trial in New York for masterminding the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. Monib and more than 100 other Taliban leaders were placed on a sanctions list in January 2001, a year before he broke ranks with the Islamic movement and joined forces with Hamid Karzai, the Washington-backed president of Afghanistan.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States ushered through resolutions that expanded the list of sanctioned people to suspected al-Qaeda members. The measures included a travel ban, an arms embargo and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources to Monib and 489 other people and groups.
But the Security Council has been slow to adjust to the changing political realities in Afghanistan, where at least 19 former Taliban officials have reconciled with Karzai's government. It also cannot agree to remove other people from the list, even after they have died or have convinced the United States that they should not be considered enemies.
Russia has rebuffed requests by the United States and the Netherlands -- both have troops in Uruzgan -- to take Monib off the list. "He's been involved very closely with the Taliban and committed a number of very serious misdeeds," said Konstantin Dolgov, a senior U.N.-based Russian diplomat. "We don't have information that he has changed."
Despite Russian opposition, the United States has openly supported reconstruction projects on Monib's turf. A Pentagon Web site called Defend America profiled the Afghan politician last year as he distributed coalition-financed wheat, seeds, flour and school supplies to poor villagers, urging them to forgo violence.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, the commander of Combined Joint Task Force in Afghanistan last year, joined Monib in May 2006 at a ceremony to celebrate the construction of a new steel bridge across the Helmand River.
"We hope that you will take the words of the governor to heart and that you will all work together for peace and security in Uruzgan province," Freakley told the Afghan crowd assembled for the bridge ceremony. "We look forward to working more road projects and other necessities -- clinics and police stations . . . whatever the governor wants."
Richard Barrett, chairman of the U.N. Security Council's Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions panel, which monitors compliance with the resolution, said that the ban on financial assets and economic resources raises troubling legal questions.
"Does giving him a ride in an armored car or an airplane or giving aid through him to some sort of program within Uruzgan province constitute a breach of the sanctions?" Barrett asked. "Some of the legal advice that states have been getting suggest that it may."
In March 2006, the United Nations instructed its staff in Afghanistan to steer clear of Monib over concerns that they might breach the sanctions. But the prohibition was partially lifted after U.S. and European officials objected.
U.N. staff members are now allowed to interact with Monib but not to engage in activities that could be construed as violating sanctions, such as flying him in a U.N. aircraft. However, one U.N. official in Afghanistan said the mission has been privately urging donor countries to increase aid to Uruzgan.
Monib is "seen as being a relatively capable governor," but his designation on the list "does present difficulties," said Adrian Edwards, a U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan. "We have to abide by" U.N. resolutions, he said.
The Netherlands and Australia -- which also has troops in Uruzgan -- insist that they have not breached U.N. sanctions because they have channeled aid through the government, not through Monib's private accounts.
"We do talk to Monib, which is not prohibited," said a Dutch official who tracks the issue. But "we do business with the province of Uruzgan."
An Australian spokeswoman insisted that "Australia has strictly complied with the sanctions." She added that "Australian personnel in Afghanistan will ensure they do not engage in any dealings with Monib which would be contrary to Australian law" or Security Council resolutions.
Monib's dilemma underscores a broader failing of the U.N. role in the battle against terrorism, said Eric A. Rosand, who oversaw U.N. counterterrorism efforts for the United States until 2005. He said that the council has not responded to evolving terrorist threats and that many countries have stopped cooperating with it.
For instance, the council has not added a new Taliban figure to the list since 2001. That included the movement's military commander, Mullah Dadullah, who was killed by allied forces in May.
"The whole thing is broken," said Rosand, who now tracks the council's terrorism efforts for the Center on Global Counter-Terrorism Cooperation. "Everyone knows that most countries are not even implementing the sanctions."
The council, meanwhile, is also facing a political backlash from European governments, courts and human rights advocates, who say it offers inadequate legal protection for people on the list. The council has introduced new measures to strengthen due process, including the establishment of a U.N. office to hear complaints.
But the new office lacks the authority to recommend that the council remove a person from the list, and a single member of the council can still block the delisting process.
"This is a perfect case where time has passed, things have changed, but the committee hasn't and the list hasn't," Rosand said. "The list is so poorly managed that no one has confidence in it anymore, and nobody puts forward names."