UN fails to reach decision over travel exemption for Taliban

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis was made worse after the US and NATO troop withdrawal from Kabul on 31 August last year after the Taliban takeover. 

A UN travel waiver for 13 Taliban officials expired on Friday as the Security Council failed to reach an agreement over its extension, the Associated Press (AP) reported on Saturday.

The delay in the decision came amid a divide, with Russia and China urging the UN to allow the specified Taliban members to travel.

On the other hand, US and other western states proposed a reduction in the number of officials to six for 90 days without geographical limitations. Citing UN diplomats, the US proposal initially stipulated that the six members’ travel shall be restricted to Qatar, where the Taliban has a political office.

Russia and China reportedly proposed the extension for all 13 officials, while limiting their travel to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries” before considering the revised US proposal.

UNSC diplomats told the AP that the ban will be restored on all officials until Monday when Russia and China respond to the US’ proposal. If no one objects to the ban by then, it will come into effect for three months.

Under a 2011 UNSC resolution, 135 Taliban officials are facing sanctions and travel bans, out of which 13 were allowed to travel to participate in peace talks. 

Those who have opposed the extension of the waiver have cited the interim Afghan government’s failure to stick to its promises, including ensuring the protection of the rights of women and forming an inclusive government.

In June, the UN Security Council’s Afghanistan Sanctions Committee removed two Taliban education ministers from the exemption list for banning girls’ access to education in March. 

Qatar had condemned the interim Afghan government’s move at the time.

Qatar has long called on the global community to not isolate Afghanistan as part of efforts to help resolve its worsening humanitarian situation.

“We cannot abandon a country because a new de facto government is in place…we cannot neglect the fact that there is a country there called Afghanistan that we recognise,” said Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani last year.

The Gulf state has hosted various meetings between the Taliban and officials from the west after 20 years of fighting came to an end last year. 

The Taliban’s participation in the meetings was seen as part of its diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition and pave the way for foreign cooperation to resolve its economic turmoil.

A spokesperson for the Chinese mission at the UN described linking the travel ban to human rights as “counterproductive”, given that the travels are “needed as much as ever.”

Humanitarian situation

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis was made worse after the US and NATO troop withdrawal from Kabul on 31 August last year after the Taliban takeover. 

Even prior to the developments in the country, Afghanistan was 75% dependent on foreign assistance.

The US contributed to the worsening situation by freezing billions of dollars belonging to Afghanistan. 

In February, US President Joe Biden ordered the release of $7 billion of Afghanistan’s funds. However, the Biden administration only gave Afghans living under dire humanitarian conditions just $3.5 billion of the total amount.

The other half of the funds was allocated towards victims of the 9/11 attack, a move that many described as the US “punishing” Afghans. 

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) warned of universal poverty by mid-2022 as 97% of Afghans live below the poverty line.

A separate Human Rights Watch report also stated that more than 90% of households have not been able to get a sufficient amount of food, with nearly half of the population suffering from food insecurity. 

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