Five former Taliban officials removed from UN blacklist

UN Security Council has removed five former Taliban officials from its sanctions list, imposed for alleged links with al-Qaeda. The decision came ahead of key international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London.

The delisting is believed to be part of a plan aimed at helping the UN and Afghan efforts to pursue peace talks with the Taliban.

The UN announced that the decision was made on January 25 after a review of the so-called “Consolidated List” and the men will no longer be subject to subject to international travel bans, asset freezes and arms embargo.

The removal of Taliban officials from the blacklist became possible after Russia – one of the Security Councils’ five permanent members with the power to veto – supported the idea, which it had previously been opposed to.

That, however, does not mean that Moscow has changed its stance on the issue.

"We have always maintained that the Afghanistan peace process should include the moderate Taliban," Igor Lyakin-Frolov, the deputy head of Russian Foreign Ministry's Department of Information and Press told RT. But there are three conditions.

These people must lay down their weapons and stop extremist activities, acknowledge the Afghan constitution and quit the Taliban, the official said. This position is invariable, and it remains in force today, he said.

The five de-listed men include former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, ex-deputy minister of commerce Fazal Mohammad, ex-Taliban press officer Shams-us-Safa Aminzai, and ex- deputy minister of planning Mohammad Musa Hottak. The fifth person, former deputy minister of frontier affairs Abdul Hakim, renounced the Taliban three years ago.

The sanctions against the five officials were imposed in 2001, after the American military invasion overthrew the Taliban government following 9/11 attacks on the United States. The military operation was launched after the Sunni Islamist political movement refused to hand over al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks in the US history.

According to the UN, there was no indication the former Taliban officials had recently been involved in the insurgency against the Afghan government and NATO forces.

Removing the ban is something Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been pushing for as part of reconciliation efforts. He had also been planning to raise the issue at London conference on Thursday.

Earlier, he said Taliban members who are not part of al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups "are welcome to come back to their country, lay down arms and resume life."

Karzai is coming to London with a hope to get international support for his plan to make the Taliban stop fighting in exchange for money and jobs. Many, however, remain skeptical that the multi-million dollar initiative will succeed.

Moscow offers helping hand

The world seems to have united its efforts in order to finally solve the Afghan problem.

On Wednesday, NATO and Kazakhstan signed an agreement on the transit of the alliance’s cargo through Kazakh soil to Afghanistan.

“This allows supplies for our forces to start moving from Europe to Afghanistan, beginning in the coming days, complementing the very important transit route through Pakistan,” NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said in a statement in Brussels.

Before, the US-led NATO coalition had to rely on the Khyber Pass in Pakistan, which was often attacked by the Taliban.

A day before that, Russia’s and NATO’s military chiefs met for the first time since the conflict in South Ossetia in August 2008. And the main topic on the agenda of the meeting in Brussels became the situation in the Islamic Republic.

The chiefs of staff approved a framework military cooperation treaty, which reportedly includes Russia's support for the US-led military operation in Afghanistan, specifically military transit via Russian airspace.

Ria Novosti, citing Kommersant business daily writes that Russia said it is ready to help reconstruct 142 industrial facilities and infrastructure objects built in Afghanistan by Soviet engineers between 1952 and 1988. However, it is the international community that should finance the construction works.

"We consider that civil construction projects are the most effective way to fight insurgents. This will give Afghanistan an opportunity to develop a normal independent economy," Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO told the agency. He added that Moscow would put forward the initiative at the international conference in London.

“We have every right to demand access to our objects,” the diplomat stated.

Rogozin added that countries "that have a lot of money and want to help Afghanistan, but cannot send soldiers" should provide funds for the country's reconstruction.

"Even mousetrap cheese is not free in times of crisis. So the financing of these projects is a question for the international community," he said, adding that Russia's Western partners should decide how much money should be provided by each country.

Russia has to work out its own policy on Afghanistan

Since it has become clear that the US and NATO trop withdrawal from Afghanistan is just a question of time, there in an urge to start negotiations with the Taliban, Semyon Bagdasarov, State Duma deputy and expert on Central Asia and Afghanistan told RT.

The idea that that it is time to stop fighting and get to the negotiating table with the insurgents has previously been voiced by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

“Of course, there were talks before. But in order to move them to a higher level, lifting UN sanctions [on former Taliban senior officials] was needed,” Bagdasarov said.

“As for Russia…Unfortunately, Russia doesn’t have an Afghan policy of its own. So we adjust to Western policy. That is it,” he said. The Russian ambassador to the UN used to be against lifting the sanctions, but “it seems they managed to convince him [to change his mind],” he said.

The expert believes the decision was right. However, the question remains: what is Russia’s policy in Afghanistan and will it take place in negotiations with Taliban?

“Even though Russia has no common borders with Afghanistan, we have visa-free entrance for citizens of Central Asian states,” Bagdasarov said, adding that, for instance, the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan is open.

The expert wonders if Russia is going to consider its national security. The threats to be considered are drug trafficking and terrorism.