Afghan Sanctions Deserve Review by New President – January 3, 2000

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A recent joint U.S-Russian initiative in the United Nations Security Council has slapped a series of sanctions against the Taliban regime of Afghanistan, making it a virtual pariah in the international community. The sanctions are meant to coerce the Taliban to give up Osama bin Laden, the erstwhile Saudi freedom fighter who lives in Afghanistan.

The U.S., Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, alarmed at the Soviet penetration of Afghanistan, had armed and trained thousands of “mujahideen” (freedom fighters) from all over the Islamic world to battle against the Soviet Union who had occupied an Islamic country 20 years ago. These warriors were hailed world wide for their courage and commitment to oust the Soviets, which they did after a prolonged struggle. Osama bin Laden was one such prominent warrior recruited from Saudi Arabia.

As long as bin Laden fought against the Soviets, he was in the good books of the U.S and the West. Some years ago there was a bitter parting of the ways, the reasons for which are not clear. Now he is demonized as an arch terrorist accused of masterminding the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, and other terrorist incidents directed against the U.S, including the bombing of the U.S destroyer Cole.

Thanks to media and government attention, bin Laden has been built up into a super terrorist, a figure to be feared and hated. The U.S tried to persuade the Taliban to hand over bin Laden for trial, but the Taliban refused, asking for concrete proofs of bin Laden’s crimes.

Also, in the Afghan tribal code, handing over a benefactor and friend would constitute gross betrayal. Unable to bend the Taliban to their will, the U.S. has turned against the very people who defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan and hastened the collapse of the “evil empire”.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan was understandably upset at the U.N. sanctions against Afghanistan because these will undercut the U.N.’s ability to broker peace in a country ravaged by 21 years of conflict, starting with the ill-advised Soviet invasion in 1979. The Soviet Union was responsible for perpetrating massive death and destruction in Afghanistan and initiating chaos and instability, which persists to this day.

It is therefore regrettable that the United States has joined hands with a country which damaged Afghanistan so brutally in pursuit of its great power ambitions.

Most informed observers know that sanctions do not work. In fact, they have a perverse effect; the regimes that are supposed to be chastised become stronger and bolder while the sufferings of the poor and weak citizens are magnified many times over.

The decade-long sanctions against Iraq seem hardly to have had an effect on Saddam Hussein, while half a million Iraqi children have perished for want of medicine and food.

Today the sanctions policy against Iraq is in tatters with more and more countries forging relations with Saddam.

The Taliban rule certainly has distasteful aspects.

It is an isolated regime with no concept of modern governance. It has enforced a stifling conformity on its citizens based on its primitive and incorrect version of Islam. Their treatment of Afghan women is deplorable. The Taliban, however, are a product of the vacuum that exists in Afghanistan.

They control 90 percent of Afghanistan, while their opponents have been pushed to a pocket in the northeast of the country. These minority ethnic Tajiks and Uzbeks are being supported in arms and money by Russia, Iran and India, each for its own reasons. These countries are therefore responsible for prolonging the civil war in Afghanistan.

No one has criticized them for stoking the embers of civil war and prolonging the agony of the Afghan people. Neither has the international community condemned in strong terms the Russian actions against the Chechen Muslims, who have suffered enormously. Grozny, their capital, has been virtually destroyed by Russian military action. The champions of human rights abuses are silent. Such double standards and discrimination should not have a place in the modern lexicon of international relations.

The incoming Bush administration would do well to review the short-sighted U.S.-Russian sanctions regime against the Taliban. Most Afghan people are already living on the margin. A terrible drought has made their existence, precarious at the best of times, move perilously close to famine.

The Taliban should be engaged by the international community to moderate their policies and actions.

There is a far better chance of success with this approach rather than nonrecognition and punishment. The latter alternative will make the problem worse and give credibility to the detractors of the U.S. that Washington is an enemy of Islam, which is of course not true.

— S. Azmat Hassan is a former Pakistani diplomat and a professor at Caldwell College.
— From: The Daily Record, Morristown, NJ
— Published: January 3, 2001

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