In June, the United Nations Security Council must decide whether to modify the current regime of sanctions against the Taliban leadership. It is a consequential decision.
UN sanctions against the Taliban for years included an international leadership travel ban, but the Security Council suspended that ban three years ago in the interest of the failed “reconciliation” process.
However, Taliban leaders remain free to travel because the council renewed that waiver – incredibly – as recently as March, in the hope that somehow more concessions to the group would lead to positive change.
If there is any rationale for waiving the travel ban, it is hard to imagine what the argument will be today, more than half a year since the Taliban seized Kabul and re-imposed their violent and oppressive will on tens of millions of Afghans.
When the issue comes to the Council next month, the United States should use its powers of persuasion and, if necessary, its veto, to stand against any further attempts to extend the exemption to the travel ban.
To some, allowing the Taliban to travel outside Afghanistan may seem like a small concession. But it does represent the creeping normalization of international relations with a regime that overthrew a constitutional republic and an official ally of the United States, murdered our allies and stole the rights of its own people—most relevant in this case—still openly cooperating with others. terrorists.
Under UN Security Council Resolution 1988, which extended an older set of sanctions prior to 9/11, the travel ban on the Taliban leadership was accompanied by financial sanctions and an arms embargo. The ban is linked to terrorism. It applies to those who act or cooperate with those who threaten the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan and are associated with the Taliban’s links to al-Qaeda and other groups that conduct such activities.
The Security Council lifted the travel ban on senior Taliban leaders in April 2019 for one purpose only: to allow these representatives to attend the Doha negotiations and travel elsewhere to “support reconciliation” with their Afghan colleagues. This concept was a dangerous delusion when combined with open American impatience to end our troop presence.
Taliban leaders used their freedom of travel to cut separate deals with Russia, China and other neighbors, cementing their quasi-governmental status while refusing to negotiate with the elected Afghan government. They succeeded in waiting for the exit of the United States and NATO and managed to deprive the Afghans of their basic rights, while they were waiting for full recognition.
However, the UN sanctions, recently renewed in December 2021, are still in force because the facts of the case are undeniable. The Taliban sponsors terrorism and hosts al-Qaeda and other international terrorist organizations on Afghan soil. The Congressional Research Service recently documented the continuing and growing presence of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, with the apparent cooperation of the Taliban. The Taliban themselves announced earlier this year that they would form a suicide battalion – or “martyrdom brigades” – to carry out “special operations” “under the control of the Ministry of Defense.” The Islamic State, although not directly supported by the Taliban, is carrying out deadly attacks under the regime’s watch, proving the mistake of believing that there is effective cooperation between the Taliban in combating terrorism with the West.
They don’t even pretend to seek political reconciliation that would justify travel, as their documented crimes continue, including revenge killings, disappearances and the total closure of women’s rights to education, work and freedom of movement – documented by eyewitnesses, human rights defenders and the Security Council.
The suspension of the travel ban has allowed the Taliban to seek the diplomatic recognition it craves, leading to the creeping normalization of an authoritarian and extremist movement that other groups emulate. Too bad that the Chinese foreign minister visited Kabul on the same day that the Taliban deprived girls of their education over the age of 12, in order to discuss political and economic relations, including the mining sector. It is outrageous that in the absence of a travel ban, senior Taliban leaders would return with such a gesture and visit China themselves.
Moreover, if it is just a matter of keeping the foreign policy toolkit in good working order, the United States has an obligation to stand by a serious sanctions regime that still makes sense. Sanctions constitute a unique political tool, as seen in the response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As director of the State Department’s Office of Peacekeeping and Sanctions when the 1988 UN Security Council Resolution was consolidated, I participated in policy discussions about how to use this tool. Sanctions should rise and fall on their own merits, based on the reasons for which they were imposed in the first place, not barter them for irrelevant concessions.
It is in the national security interest of the United States to curb active Taliban destabilization of Afghanistan and the region. Indeed, with their hands on all levers of power inside Afghanistan and cooperative relations with many other terrorist groups outside the country’s borders, the Taliban is more dangerous than ever. That is why sanctions against the Taliban must remain in full force.
The United States has given up almost all of its negotiating leverage in its fruitless attempt to get the Taliban regime to act as a responsible member of the international community. But the group does not care about penalties. All the more reason to notify them now and restore the travel ban suspension.
Annie Pforzheimer is the former Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan, former Deputy Chief of Mission at the United States Embassy in Kabul, and a member of the Steering Committee for Alliance to support the Afghan people.