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Five Taliban removed from terror blacklist

The U.N. Security Council has removed five former Taliban members, including two dead men and the Islamic movement’s former ambassadors to Pakistan and the United Nations, from a U.N. terrorist blacklist, a move aimed at signaling to Taliban insurgents that they will be rewarded for putting down their weapons. The action represents a modest diplomatic ...

The U.N. Security Council has removed five former Taliban members, including two dead men and the Islamic movement’s former ambassadors to Pakistan and the United Nations, from a U.N. terrorist blacklist, a move aimed at signaling to Taliban insurgents that they will be rewarded for putting down their weapons.

The action represents a modest diplomatic achievement for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has pressed the international community to lift sanctions on 137 members of the former Taliban government in an effort to prod the insurgents into peace talks with the government. It also reflects willingness by Russia, which opposes any role for the Taliban in a future government, to lift travel and financial sanctions on former Taliban leaders who have put down their arms.

It was more than a decade ago that the U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions on members of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan at the time, for refusing to surrender Osama bin Laden to U.S. authorities in connection with al Qaeda’s role in the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa. In January 2001, more than 100 Taliban leaders were added to the list. The list was expanded after the September 11, 2001, attacks, to include al Qaeda members and their supporters. The measures include a travel ban, an arms embargo, and a prohibition on the direct or indirect provision of funds or economic resources.

The move follows a major U.N. review of the sanctions list, which after today’s action includes 489 individuals and entities, including 257 al Qaeda members and backers.  It also comes weeks after Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, traveled to New York to meet with diplomats from Russia and Austria, which oversees the Security Council committee responsible for delisting Taliban members. Holbrooke urged them to make progress on the delisting process in order to help boost peace prospects in Afghanistan.

The Security Council lifted an asset freeze and travel ban on Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, who served as the Taliban’s ambassador before the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, the public voice of the Taliban in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion. Zaeef, who was serving as the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, was handed over to American authorities and transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility, where he stayed until 2005.

In his memoir, My Life with the Taliban, Zaeef, a 42-year-old founding member of the Taliban, recounts a life of militancy dating back to the Soviet resistance in 1980s. He claims that he was sold by Pakistani intelligence officials to U.S. operatives in 2002. He was released in 2005 without being charged with a crime. He has since lived in Kabul under government protection.

Mujahid Muhammad Awrang , the Taliban’s former U.N. representative, served as the movement’s main contact with the United States and other western governments. Operating out of an office in Queens, Mujahid met frequently with the Clinton administration’s under secretary of state for South Asian affairs, Rick Inderfurth.

Three remaining former Taliban taken off the list include Abdul Satar Paktin, and two dead men, Abdul Samad Khaksar and Muhammad Islam Mohammadi. The presence of dead people on the list has long been a source of embarrassment to the council. In December, the council passed a resolution that encourages states to report on the newly dead and encourages the U.N. committee responsible for overseeing the sanctions "to remove listings of deceased individuals where credible information regarding death is available."

Please follow me on Twitter @columlynch.

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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