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UN: Security Council To Assess Grim Conditions In Afghanistan

  • Robert McMahon

Afghanistan's enormous problems continue to defy solution by concerned neighbors or the international community. To spur new discussion on the country's intractable problems, the UN Security Council has scheduled an open session for today (Friday). The focus will be on Afghanistan's much criticized humanitarian and human rights situation. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 7 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The UN Security Council plans to use an open session today to highlight the wretched circumstances facing Afghan civilians.

Canada's mission to the UN, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, says it wants to focus international attention on the continuing civil war in Afghanistan and the impact it is having on human rights and humanitarian affairs.

International monitors rate the human rights situation in Afghanistan as among the world's worst. They note the ongoing civil war has taken a heavy toll on civilians, creating more than two million refugees at last count and about 1.2 million internally displaced people.

Human rights groups blame the ruling Taliban for gross violations of human rights and basic freedoms, especially against women.

Today's council session will be chaired by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy and is expected to result in a presidential statement calling for an immediate end to the hostilities and to abuses against civilians. But beyond strong words, it's not clear what means the powerful body can use to bring about change in Afghanistan.

The council approved sanctions against the ruling Taliban faction late last year for refusing to turn over accused terrorist Osama bin Laden for extradition. One of the main effects of the sanctions has been the curtailing of flights by the state carrier Ariana, sharply reducing the remittances that Afghans have received from relatives abroad.

In a country so devastated by war, analysts say it is hard for the world's powers to be coercive. Sharing that view is Barnett Rubin, an expert on Central Asian affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations, a prominent New York-based think-tank.

"It's too late to bomb Afghanistan because the whole country's been bombed thoroughly for 20 years and there's nothing left to destroy. It's too late to have economic sanctions against Afghanistan because virtually the whole economy, what's left of it, is already illegal."

Rubin says that one recent negotiating model that has been tried, under the arrangement known as the "Six-plus-Two," has been ineffective. He says this is mainly due to Iran's steady support of the northern alliance which still controls about 10 percent of Afghanistan and Pakistan's continued strong backing of the Taliban.

The other countries in the group include China, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and the United States. The group last year adopted a declaration in the Uzbek capital Tashkent in which the members agreed to not provide military support to any Afghan party and to prevent the use of their territories for such purposes.

Rubin says Pakistan is more interested in solving the Afghan conflict by dealing directly with Iran rather than through a group such as "Six-plus-Two." He says a major question for the future of Afghanistan is how Pakistan evolves politically and whether this could lead to the government helping to bring about the extradition of bin Laden.

"The focus will be on what Pakistan does. Pakistan is in a very difficult situation. Pakistan is totally isolated on this issue in the international community and it is becoming more isolated as time goes by."

The press office of Pakistan's mission to the UN said Thursday that no officials were available to comment on the Security Council session.

Another issue expected to get close attention at the Security Council session today is the status of women in Afghanistan. The Canadian and U.S. missions have indicated they will focus attention on the issue in their remarks to the council. Taliban authorities have denied charges that they were limiting health care and education opportunities for women.

But UN officials say international pressure has recently helped ease conditions for women in urban areas. For example, the Taliban has authorized the opening of a number of Taliban-run girls' schools in some communities and permitted the opening of a women's nursing school and medical college.