(CNSNews.com) – U.N. Security Council members are wrestling over extending exemptions from a travel ban for selected Taliban leaders, with Russia and China pushing for the waivers to be renewed, and Western members resisting, citing the fundamentalist militia’s violation of women’s rights.
Afghan women’s rights advocates are calling on the council to enforce the travel ban completely, in response to the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls.
Waivers allowing 13 Taliban officials to travel internationally expired on Friday but the sides failed to reach agreement, and leaks from private discussions indicate the deadlock persists, despite various proposed compromises.
At one point, the U.S. and allies proposed that seven of the 13 officials should no longer be allowed to travel, and that the remaining six have their waivers extended, but for travel limited to Qatar. The small Gulf state has played a prominent role in diplomacy between the Taliban and international community over the last decade.
Russia and China reportedly demanded that all 13 Taliban officials be allowed to continue traveling, conceded only that travel destinations be limited to Russia, China, Qatar, and other countries in the region (a likely reference to Pakistan, a longstanding Taliban ally).
Western members disagreed, and a U.S. counteroffer then reportedly agreed to lift the Qatar-only stipulation for the six, while holding firm on ending the waivers for the other seven.
That failed to satisfy Russia and China, and the bargaining continued on Monday.
Afghan diplomats who were appointed by the government that was toppled by the Taliban last summer urged the council to end the concession entirely, given the regime’s conduct.
“Taliban’s actions in the last 1 year leave little room for extending ‘the benefit of the doubt,’” tweeted Nasir Ahmad Andisha, the still-in-place Afghan ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva.
Afghan ambassador to Sri Lanka M. Ashraf Haidari called for an end to all exemptions. He said on Twitter it was unfortunate some were pushing to even half of the waivers in place, “granting sanctioned terrorist leaders the freedom of movement they’ve denied Afghans, esp. women.”
Haidari also argued that banning Taliban travel would help prevent it “from raising funds from regional charities to fuel their war machine in Afghanistan.”
The Afghan Women’s Advocacy Group (AWAG), which says it represents women in Afghanistan and in exile, called on council members to ban travel for all Taliban representatives “for what they are doing to women and girls in Afghanistan.”
In a letter to council members earlier this month, AWAG wrote, “Despite Council members condemning the Taliban’s increasingly draconian actions, almost nothing has been done to hold them to account.”
It cited dozens of Taliban policies that “strip women and girls of their rights and eliminate them from society,” the humanitarian crisis, starvation, and violence targeting women and girls and ethnic minority Hazaras and Tajiks, and “the Taliban’s collaboration with al-Qaeda, false promises, and gestures designed to mislead international community members who wish to believe in a moderate Taliban.”
“We strongly urge the Security Council to stand with the people of Afghanistan and begin to hold these internationally recognized terrorists to account by ending the exemptions to the travel ban.”
After seizing power violently last year, the regime began curtailing freedoms women had come to enjoy over the years since the Islamist militia’s rule was brought to an end by U.S.-led invasion after 9/11.
It has refused to allow girls above grade six to return to school, enforces strict dress codes, bans women from most employment, and has ordered women not to leave home unless necessary.
For many Afghan women the notion that the Security Council would allow travel to leaders of a regime that that has prohibited women to fly domestically or internationally unless accompanied by a male “guardian” is disgraceful.
‘Bigoted western circles’
Under a 2011 Security Council resolution, more than 130 Taliban representatives are sanctioned.
In 2019 the Security Council at the request of the U.S. exempted specified Taliban representatives from the travel ban, to facilitate negotiations with the Trump administration that led in early 2020 to the signing of the Doha Agreement.
The Taliban’s violent seizure of power a year ago was a blatant violation of the Doha Agreement, which linked a U.S. troop withdrawal with a political transition based on intra-Afghan negotiations. The regime rejects that interpretation, while demanding that the U.S. keep to its commitments in the deal, including a lifting of U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
As Security Council members now wrangle over extending the waivers, the Taliban foreign ministry complained in a series of tweets that the agreement was not being met, and warned of a “stern” response.
Spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi said the ministry “calls on UNSC not to use sanctions as pressure tool.”
“It was agreed in the Doha Agreement that all sanctions shall be removed from IEA leadership, a clause that should be implemented in full,” he said, using an acronym for the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.”
“If the travel ban is extended, it will create distance instead of promoting dialogue and engagement, an outcome that must be prevented,” Balkhi said.
“UNSC member states should know that some bigoted western circles are deliberately trying to create distance between Afghanistan and the world, and are provoking Afghans to take a stern stance in response which is not in the interest of anyone.”
The 13 officials whose freedom to travel abroad is now being weighed include the regime’s deputy prime minister Abdul Ghani Baradar, foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, director of intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, and mines and petroleum minister Shahabuddin Delawar,
Until last June, the exemption list comprised 15 individuals, but the Security Council removed two education ministers, in response to the regime’s restrictions on schooling for women.
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