Russia won't block removal of former Taliban members from U.N. terrorism list

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

UNITED NATIONS -- A U.N. Security Council committee announced Tuesday that it has lifted sanctions against five former Taliban officials, bolstering Afghan and U.N. efforts to pursue peace talks with the group, Security Council diplomats said. The decision came after Russia agreed to stop blocking a U.S.-backed proposal to delist the men.

The action marks a dramatic shift by Russia, which for years had opposed requests by the U.S. and European governments to delist former Taliban members who say they back the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. No Taliban member had been delisted since the Security Council first imposed sanctions on the group more than 10 years ago.

Recently, Afghanistan and its U.N. special envoy, Kai Eide, had appealed to the 15-nation council to lift sanctions on a handful of former Taliban officials whom Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador, Zahir Tanin, described as "willing to renounce violence and join the peace process."

The delisting process is part of a broader review of anti-Taliban sanctions by the Security Council, which has been criticized for failing to remove dead combatants and add new terrorism suspects to the U.N. blacklist, according to Richard Barrett, the chairman of a U.N. panel that oversees the implementation of sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Russia's move helps ensure that the list is "up to date and reflects the reality of the threat," Barrett said, adding that delisting shows that "a change of behavior can lead to a removal from sanctions and an opportunity to play a full part in the future of Afghanistan."

The Security Council approved sanctions on the Taliban in October 1999 after the group refused to surrender Osama bin Laden to face trial in New York for masterminding the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. More than 100 Taliban leaders were placed on a sanctions list in January 2001.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States ushered through resolutions that expanded the list to cover people suspected of being al-Qaeda members. The sanctions include a travel ban, an arms embargo, and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funding to nearly 500 terrorism suspects.

Over the years, several members of the former Taliban government switched sides to join forces with Karzai's government. But Russia repeatedly rebuffed initiatives by the United States and other governments to reward them by easing sanctions.

Now, after Russia's shift, those measures have been lifted against Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who was a minister of foreign affairs in the Taliban government, and Abdul Hakim Monib, another former Taliban official who has since served as Karzai's governor in Uruzgan province. Sanctions against Fazl Mohammad Faizan, Shams-us-Safa Aminzai and Mohammad Musa Hotak have also been dropped.

The Russian decision reflects the new thinking that political reconciliation with some elements of the Taliban leadership "is both feasible and a good idea," said J. Alexander Thier, the director for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "Taking some Taliban names off the sanctions list is like a prisoner exchange, a small step and sign of good faith on the part of U.N. Security Council members."

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