Russia moves to delist five former Taliban officials

The Russian government has agreed to permit the removal of the names of five former Taliban officials from a U.N. list of suspected terrorists, sending a clear signal that it wants to back U.N. and Afghan efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, according to Security Council diplomats. The move marked a dramatic shift ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.

The Russian government has agreed to permit the removal of the names of five former Taliban officials from a U.N. list of suspected terrorists, sending a clear signal that it wants to back U.N. and Afghan efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, according to Security Council diplomats.

The move marked a dramatic shift for the Russian government, which has opposed previous efforts by the U.S. and European governments to delist former Taliban who have renounced violence and backed the government of President Hamid Karzai.

On Monday, a Russian spokesman at the U.N. mission told Turtle Bay, "[W]e can say we are against the delisting of the Taliban." The spokesman, Ruslan Bakhtin, later said he didn't realize that his government had moved to delist former Taliban.

The Russian government has agreed to permit the removal of the names of five former Taliban officials from a U.N. list of suspected terrorists, sending a clear signal that it wants to back U.N. and Afghan efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, according to Security Council diplomats.

The move marked a dramatic shift for the Russian government, which has opposed previous efforts by the U.S. and European governments to delist former Taliban who have renounced violence and backed the government of President Hamid Karzai.

On Monday, a Russian spokesman at the U.N. mission told Turtle Bay, "[W]e can say we are against the delisting of the Taliban." The spokesman, Ruslan Bakhtin, later said he didn’t realize that his government had moved to delist former Taliban.

The Russian government has lifted its objection to delisting Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, a minister of foreign affairs in the former Taliban government, and Abdul Hakim Monib Muhammad Nazar, another former Taliban official who broke ranks with the movement and served as Karzai’s governor in Uruzgan. Russia has also agreed to delist Fazl Muhammad Faizan Qamaruddin, Shams-us-Safa Aminzai, and Muhammad Musa Hotak Abdul Mehdi.

A council diplomat told Turtle Bay that U.N. procedure allows for the five former Taliban leaders’ names to be immediately lifted from the list, a move Russia’s acquiescence makes more likely. [UPDATE: A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee announced Tuesday that it has lifted sanctions against the five former Taliban officials, bolstering Afghan and U.N. efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban, Security Council diplomats said.]

"The Russians aren’t dead set against delisting Taliban. They are dead set against doing so without good reason," said Richard Barrett, a senior U.N. counterterrorism official who oversees a panel responsible for enforcing sanctions against al Qaeda and the Taliban. "They do not want the Taliban to emerge from purdah without clear assurances that they have changed."

"Russia wants a stable Afghanistan to contain the spread of extremism and political unrest in Central Asia," Barrett said. "It also wants to curb its growing domestic drug problem, which requires effective government in the south."

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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