16 March 2001

'UN sanctions may prolong Afghan civil war'

16 March 2001
The Times of India

In Taliban country

Times of India News Service

KABUL: UN officials in Afghanistan may despise the Taliban's policies but many of them have reservations about the utility of sanctions as a way of forcing a change.

In January, UN Security Council Resolution 1333 came into effect, imposing an arms embargo on the Taliban and banning their leaders from travelling abroad. The earlier ban on Ariana, Afghan Airways, was supplemented by a ban on all commercial flights into and out of Afghanistan. The US, which co-sponsored the resolution, insists civilians will be unaffected. However, the authorities here claim sanctions are having an adverse impact on ordinary citizens.

According to UN officials here, the truth lies somewhere in between. The sanctions may not directly affect civilians, they argue, but by scuttling any possibility of a negotiated end to the war with the opposition Northern Alliance, they will prolong the misery of the population. The Taliban's own policies - towards women, towards the opposition - don't help,'' said a senior UN official. But sanctions have been imposed not for these but because of their refusal to extradite Osama bin Laden.''

While acknowledging the Taliban arms embargo is impossible to monitor, the UN official said the failure to impose a similar ban on the Northern Alliance will prolong the country's civil war. As far as the ban on the leadership's travel except for Haj, humanitarian reasons or peace talks is concerned, the officials said: The sanctions stopped the peace process and Haj comes once a year. If you don't take Taliban leaders out of here, how will they learn anything from outside? This way, we are fuelling their extremism.''

UN officials do not think targeting Ariana serves any useful purpose. With only internal flights allowed, 300 employees have been dismissed and medicines can no longer be flown in. Since the airline's ageing fleet of Antonovs are banned from going abroad for maintenance, there are also concerns about safety. If a flight crashes for whatever reason, the Taliban will put the responsibility on us,'' said a UN official.

At the same time, UN staff say the Taliban are exaggerating the economic impact of the sanctions. Surface trade continues as normal. And though currency dealers played on popular fears to effect a 20 per cent devaluation of the Afghani, surveys conducted by the World Food Programme show the price of food has not risen.

''Of course, what counts is purchasing power,'' said a WFP officials. And most Afghans have very little of it.'' White collar salaries can be as low as Rs 500 a month. Last year's drought - which affected two million people - and the Taliban's ban on poppy cultivation have worsened matters. The situation is like a big puzzle with different pieces,'' said a senior UN official. With the war continuing, donors aren't interested in funding long-term projects. Then you have the drought and the Taliban's edicts, and now sanctions, which will ensure the war continues.''

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Activities in Afghanistan is monitoring the impact of sanctions but is aware that leading members of the Security Council are not always receptive to contarian reports. For example,'' said the senior UN official, we certified that the Taliban have more or less eradicated poppy cultivation in Kandahar, Nangahar and Helmand provinces but the US dismissed our report. Today, it is only Badakshan province where large-scale cultivation of poppies continues, but that is controlled by Rabbani, the man recognised by the UN as Afghanistan's president.''

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