I am posting this article on behalf of Victor Comras:
New Security Council Approach to Taliban Sanctions: Premature and Perhaps Flawed
by Victor Comras
June 27, 2011
For the first time since 1999 the UN Security Council has decided to define separate, but essentially similar sanctions regimes for the Taliban and for al Qaeda and its associated groups and entities. UN Security Council Resolutions 1988 and 1989, adopted June 17, 2011, call for the maintenance of separate sanctions committees and designation lists for these two terrorist groups. The rationale for this belated sanctions bifurcation is the hope that, with Osama Bin Laden gone, it might be possible to convince key members of the Taliban to break their links with the Taliban’s militants and with Al Qaeda, and to reach some sort of accommodation with the current rulers in Kabul. And the Afghan government itself has asked the Security Council to “support national reconciliation by removing Afghan names from the UN sanctions lists for those who respect the conditions for reconciliation.” But, for many terrorism and Afghanistan experts this appears to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
We all know that the structural changes contained in the two new resolutions are motivated by a strong desire on the part of the United States and its NATO allies, as they draw down their forces, to foster a dialogue between key Taliban leaders and the Karzai government. Apparently, some kind of dialogue between the Karzai government and mid level Taliban representatives has already been going on for some time. But, these talks have certainly not given any indication that broad defection from the Taliban’s militant wing can or should be anticipated.
These days it’s easy to be skeptical about almost anything, so I should be forgiven for so quickly expressing skepticism that the UN Security Council has done a good thing. At best, little or nothing has changed. The consolidated designation list maintained up to now by the Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee already had separate sections for the Al Qaeda designees and the Taliban designees. The same asset freeze, arms embargo and travel ban measures previously imposed will, at least for the moment, remain applicable to those on both lists. The same diplomats will sit on both sanctions committees charged with maintaining both lists. And both Committees will be supported by the same Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team. While the names of the committees may now be slightly different it is still far from clear that any of the dynamics will change. And, to be frank, that might be the best case scenario!
The most important change enacted in these resolutions is in the procedures for taking names off from the designation lists, with the Afghan government now being given a key role when it comes to delisting from the Taliban list. Resolution 1988 directs the Security Council’s newly established Taliban Sanctions Committee to “give due regard to requests for removal of individuals that meet the reconciliation conditions agreed to by the Government of Afghanistan and the international community, which include the renunciation of violence, no links to international terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaida, or any cell, affiliate, splinter group, or derivative thereof, and respect for the Afghan Constitution, including the rights of women and persons belonging to minorities.” (emphasis added). Is it realistic to expect that very many of the Taliban’s leaders, so committed till now to an extreme Islamist ideology, are likely to meet such criteria and qualify?
I don’t think we yet have any clear notion as to how the Taliban delisting process will actually work out. The criteria used for delisting is quite subjective, and relies more on personal commitments than substance. And, a change in the delisting procedure is, for the most part, irrelevant to most of the Taliban, and certainly to its rank and file. The UN’s Taliban designation list only has some 137 names, while the Taliban membership is estimated to be somewhere in the 30,000 range. Most of the names on the Taliban designation list were, in actuality, drawn from the 2002 Taliban government rolls so the list contains very few new mid-level Taliban leaders or rank and file. And for the ex-Taliban government officials that are on the list, resolution 1988 indicates that requests for their delisting should, if possible, include a communication from the Government of Afghanistan confirming that the individual is “not an active supporter of, or participant in, acts that threaten the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan.” And, once off list, what’s to prevent their recidivism. If they transgress it might prove quite difficult and time consuming to put them back on. I’m also concerned by the central role the Afghan government has been given in this delisting process. Afghan government corruption is already a notorious problem, and payoffs, or the lack thereof, may well play a role in deciding who gets, or does not get, off the designation list.
Reading between the lines, I fear that we have begun drawing too sharp a distinction between the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Both groups adhere to the same radical Islamist/jihadist ideology, both lack tolerance for deviate Islamic theology or for other religions. Both seek to impose their theology by force on others, both have the same hatred for the democratic values we so cherish, and both share the same funding, recruitment, indoctrination, training and logistical resources. They are sister organizations and should be treated as such.
What really concerns me is the possible suggestion that by differentiating Al Qaeda and the Taliban we may be moving away from defining the Taliban, itself, as a terrorist organization. Personally, I think it would be a grave mistake to suggest that they are insurgents rather than terrorists, or to think that, unlike al Qaeda, their activities or aspirations are only local to Afghanistan. Recent history belies such a suggestion, least we overlook the Taliban’s terrorist reach and activities into Pakistan and northward into Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Nor should we forget the massacres of UN aid workers or at Mazar-i-Sharif.
While we must certainly explore a dialogue option with the Taliban, I think it premature to adopt the approach that is outlined in Resolution 1988.
Please take a look at my new book Flawed Diplomacy: The United Nations and the War on Terrorism (Potomac Books 2011) for a more detailed look at the UN’s role in combating terrorism