They’re not listed, but make no mistake: the UN has sanctions against the Taliban
Obscured by the evacuation effort in Kabul and fierce criticism of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, an important question arises: What do the United Nations sanctions really impose on Taliban assets?
The answer lies in the archaic and nuanced language of the organization’s resolutions. Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Pakistani Taliban and many other similar groups, the Taliban is not specifically on the UN sanctions list, but it remains sanctioned nonetheless. Examining the text of the 20-year-old Talmudic United Nations Security Council (UNSCR) resolution may seem like a job reserved for lawyers and bureaucrats (or especially bureaucratic lawyers), but the real-world implications are important. As the militant group settles down to rule the country, sanctions remain one of the only viable levers for the international community.
The confusion dates back to 1999, when UNSCR 1267 was passed in response to the Taliban sheltering Osama bin Laden, who was wanted at the time for the 1998 bombings of US embassies. in Kenya and Tanzania. The resolution froze the Taliban’s funds and other financial resources, including money generated from assets the group directly or indirectly controlled. Since then, the Security Council has not rescinded the wording of this resolution, which is legally binding on all member states, meaning that it remains in force. The Taliban was not added to any sanctions list because such a list did not exist at the time. In fact, this resolution was the mechanism for the first UN sanctions list, to which al Qaeda and other parties were subsequently added.
In 2011, the sanctions regime established in UNSCR 1267 was split to create separate lanes for the Taliban (UNSCR 1988) and al-Qaeda (UNSCR 1989) in part to give impetus to the Afghan-led peace process in urging the Taliban to improve his behavior. This split, however, seems to have created some of the confusion. The initial criteria for listing al Qaeda were to support the Taliban and bin Laden, and it’s hard to believe that the Security Council did not intend to impose sanctions on the Taliban itself via UNSCR 1267, given that the language of the asset freeze is clear. Statements by the Security Council and key member states support the existence of a broader freeze on the group’s assets.
See through the fog
As the Taliban seek international legitimacy, the lack of clarity on the status of the group’s sanctions by the UN can have serious ramifications.
On the one hand, China and Russia – both keen to see the United States embarrassed – could seek to exploit the confusion over their legally binding obligations as UN member states to strike deals with the Taliban. and to help the group consolidate its power in Afghanistan. Both countries have been credibly accused in recent years of violating UN sanctions against North Korea. Strike agreements with the Taliban in the absence of clear guidance from the Security Council would hardly be out of place for Beijing or Moscow. Once these agreements are made, it may be too late to discuss the nuances of the relevant language of the UNSCR.
On the other hand, the debate on the scope of sanctions can have tactical advantages. The UNSC, chaired by Ireland in September, must clarify and update a sanctions regime that has largely been dormant for fifteen years. The Security Council could and should use the threat of sanctions and the possibility of lifting sanctions to push the Taliban to respect human rights and freedoms. Hibatullah Akhundzada, the de facto head of the Taliban government, is not on the UN sanctions list, but the security council should warn him that could change if the Taliban rule as brutally as they have. made in the 1990s.
Likewise, for the Taliban leaders who are on the list, the Security Council could hold out the possibility of deregistering or modifying the sanctions regime as a whole, as a reward for good behavior. Many Taliban leaders are on the sanctions list and the measures clearly apply to them. The Taliban are concerned about the stigma of UN sanctions; for more than a decade, much of the Taliban leadership has been clamoring to be removed from the UN blacklist.
Regardless of the Taliban’s status, the security council must also issue clear guidelines on humanitarian exemptions and work to ensure they are viable avenues to help the Afghan people. The population should not be left in suspense, especially with a possible economic disaster looming.
Prepare to act
Despite promises from the group’s public relations staff, early feedback on Taliban human rights governance is worrying. Reports of abuse and targeted killings are already rife, as are reports that the group is hunting down those who have supported the efforts of the United States and the coalition. But whether the Taliban behave or not, Russia or China could veto the entire UN Taliban sanctions regime in a review scheduled for December, presenting a new diplomatic crisis.
The imminent threat of a resurgence of the Taliban repressing its own people and potentially serving as a training ground for terrorist groups makes it very urgent to clarify the obligations of all UN member states regarding the group’s funding and assets.
A Taliban with tax revenues, access to official levers of power, and control over the country’s opium production is scary enough. But a deal that also concludes mining deals with China and Russia, as well as access to International Monetary Fund reserves or loans from other major economies, would pose a much greater threat. The United States and its partners must work with the United Nations to clarify one thing: Despite any hesitation over whether the Taliban is “listed” or not, member states must respect the asset freeze already in place to refrain. to fund this dangerous regime.
Brian O’Toole is a non-resident principal investigator at the GeoEconomics Center at the Atlantic Council and a former senior official in the US Treasury Department.
Tue, June 29, 2021
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The Global Sanctions Dashboard aims to inform economic governance policies by analyzing sanctions on a global scale and identifying trends across lists in partnership with Castellum.AI.