That is how the United Nations Security Council justified its vote earlier this week to impose new sanctions against the government of Afghanistan. Voting 13-0, with two abstentions, the Security Council has demanded that the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Kabul, close “terrorist” training camps and surrender Mr. Osama bin Laden, the man accused of masterminding terrorist attacks against U.S. facilities around the world. The Taliban denies the charges, claiming they are an attack on Islam. Religion is not the issue; terrorism is. The sanctions are an attempt to restore the rule of law and eliminate a haven for criminals.
The U.N. resolution gives the Kabul government one month to close the camps and hand over Mr. bin Laden before sanctions kick in. If it fails to do so, the U.N. will impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, close Taliban offices outside the country and freeze foreign assets, ban international travel by Taliban officials and restrict international flights. The resolution also bans the export of acetic anhydride, which is used to make heroin, to Taliban areas.
The Afghan government protested the vote, arguing that it was unfair, anti-Islamic and would hurt ordinary citizens. The arms embargo is one-sided, since it does not affect shipments to rebels that control the 10 percent of the country that is not in the Taliban’s hands. The embargo would seem to strengthen the opposition. In response, the Taliban has said it will boycott U.N.-sponsored peace talks with the rebels.
On the other hand, the resolution has been designed to minimize the impact on ordinary Afghans. The flight restrictions do not apply to humanitarian missions or religious pilgrimages. The travel ban has been imposed on government officials, not private citizens.
The claim that the sanctions are anti-Islamic is just plain wrong. The target is a government that shelters a man who brags about his terrorist activities. The argument that Islam demands such behavior is flawed: That great religion, like all others, abhors the taking of innocent lives. It does not condone indiscriminate terror.
The resolution was cosponsored by the United States and Russia. (The ability of those two governments to cooperate on such a vote, despite their recent differences, is a welcome sign that they can do business when they need to.) Ostensibly worried about humanitarian issues, China and Malaysia abstained. But even Beijing, ever conscious of intrusions on state sovereignty, is concerned about the spread of the Taliban’s brand of fundamentalism in Central Asia and its western regions. And that, in addition to the desire to capture Mr. bin Laden, is the real force behind the vote.
Both Washington and Moscow fear the fundamentalist contagion. The Taliban is suspected of arming and supporting insurgents throughout the region. Guerrillas have already launched attacks on Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and are alleged to be supporting insurgencies in the Chechen Republic as well. Mr. bin Laden has claimed credit for attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa. Russian security forces have blamed Islamic extremists for bomb attacks in Moscow.
The real danger may be considerably closer to Kabul. The U.N. has pulled many of its relief workers out of Afghanistan, fearing attacks in retaliation for the vote. With more than half of Kabul’s 1 million residents dependent on international assistance, even a slowdown in aid could spark a humanitarian disaster. The U.N. has promised that it will run its programs with local staff, but they are unlikely to work as well as before.
Equally troubling is the prospect of more refugees fleeing to neighboring Pakistan. That country trained and supported the Taliban to fight the previous Afghan government — at the behest of the U.S. and the West — and is already burdened with nearly 2 million Afghan refugees. Islamabad opposed the resolution, and there are growing concerns that the government there could be undermined as well. That is particularly worrisome given Pakistan’s demonstrated nuclear capability.
Decision-makers around the world have framed the Afghan problem in terms of Realpolitik. Yet, the geostrategic dimension misses the ordinary Afghans who are struggling to survive. They have lived through 21 years of savage fighting. Afghanistan’s civil society has been destroyed and the detritus of war — land mines, in particular — guarantees that recovery will take decades. An entire generation has not known peace and could ensure that the next one does not either. The Taliban’s generosity is misplaced. Mr. bin Laden and his compatriots in terror do not deserve it; the Afghan people do.
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