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UN: Pakistan Takes First Steps On New Taliban Sanctions

  • Charles Recknagel

Three weeks ago, new United Nations sanctions went into effect to pressure the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden, the reputed international terrorist who lives in Afghanistan. One of the keys to the strategy's success will be Pakistan, which opposes the sanctions but has said that it will abide by them. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel looks at how well Pakistan is enforcing the new sanctions regime as they begin.

Prague, 8 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- When the new UN sanctions took effect on 19 January, they immediately created tensions between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and Pakistan, one of the few countries which recognizes the Taliban government.

Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, who was in Pakistan that week, denounced the UN action and met with Pakistani officials in an effort to undermine the sanctions before they could be applied.

But the Taliban's protests to Islamabad seemed to be in vain.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdus Sattar said he felt the sanctions were unfair, unbalanced, and likely to create more problems than they solve. Yet he said Pakistan would comply with the measures to ban all military aid and shipments to the Taliban, restrict travel by Taliban officials, and downgrade Taliban diplomatic missions abroad.

The sanctions build upon UN sanctions in effect since last year that froze the Taliban's foreign assets and banned the Afghan national airline from making international flights. They continue a UN drive -- led by the United States and Russia -- to punish the Taliban over concerns that it sponsors international terrorism.

Moscow views the Taliban as a source of unrest in Central Asia, while Washington wants the militia to hand over Saudi-born Osama bin Laden. He is suspected of masterminding attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the bombing of a U.S. naval ship in Yemen last year.

The UN has said it expects its member states bordering Afghanistan to enforce the sanctions. The effectiveness of the sanctions will in large part depend on how actively Pakistan observes them.

Pakistan has been the main political backer of the Taliban, which captured Kabul in 1996 but has never been recognized by the UN.

Several of the other states bordering Afghanistan -- including Iran and Russia -- accuse Islamabad of supplying the Islamic militia with the arms which have helped it take control of 90 percent of Afghanistan. Islamabad denies that charge and accuses Iran and Russia of arming Afghanistan's northern opposition.

Our correspondent spoke by telephone with Ahmed Rashid, a regional expert in Lahore, Pakistan, to ask how strongly Pakistan is applying the new sanctions regime. Rashid reports from Lahore for the Hong Kong-based "Far East Economic Review" and is the author of a book on the Taliban and Central Asia.

Rashid says that Pakistan's state bank has issued instructions to all financial institutions to close down accounts which could be held by Taliban officials. At the same time, Islamabad has reduced the level of representation at the Taliban's consulate in Peshawar and said it will scale down the Taliban embassy in the capital. News reports have said the embassy will be made to function largely as a business office without an ambassador.

But Rashid says there has yet to be any action to call back thousands of students from Islamic schools, or Medressahs, in Pakistan who fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"There are still thousands of Medressah students who are fighting for the Taliban who have not been officially summoned back. They are not exactly covered by the letter of the sanctions, but that is certainly one of the efforts of the international community. What happens with those? That's the big question." Rashid says that it is impossible to know to what extent the Taliban is, or is not, receiving arms across the Pakistani border. He says part of the difficulty of determining that is due to the fact the UN has set up no monitoring system in Pakistan to determine compliance.

"One of the big anomalies of all this at the moment is the fact that the UN has not set up any monitoring mechanism. And until it does so, which is presumably going to be mostly based on the Pakistan border, there is nobody here [who] is actually saying who is supposed to do what."

Meanwhile, the mood in Pakistan over the sanctions on Kabul remains divided. Islamabad is moving fast to trim visible support to the Taliban by reducing the staff and status of the militia's missions in the country. But Islamic militant groups in Pakistan -- which have close ties to the Taliban -- are lobbying the government hard to take no further steps. Those steps might include calling back student fighters or ending possible arms deliveries. Rashid says:

"The fundamentalist parties are very much against [the sanctions regime] and are lobbying very hard against it and telling the government to defy the sanctions. The government so far is saying it will implement the sanctions and is doing stuff on all this kind of obvious [diplomatic] level. Whether the other stuff is going to be done, we just don't know at the moment."

Two Arabic-language newspapers, "Al Ahram" in Egypt and "Al Khaleej" in the United Arab Emirates, today quoted Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf as suggesting the Taliban solve the crisis with the UN by handing over bin Laden for trial at a neutral site.

He said the just-ended Lockerbie airplane bombing trial of two Libyans in the Netherlands could provide an example of how to proceed.

Taliban authorities said early this week they would consider exiling bin Laden to a third country if they receive assurances that the West will recognize them as Afghanistan's legitimate government.