UN Removes Five Taliban From Its Blacklist (Two Are Dead)

UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. removed five Taliban members from its blacklist -- one an author of a book on his life with the movement, another a former deputy health minister and a third who thought women the Soviet Union had "liberated" were spies. The other two are dead.

A Security Council panel, called the 1267 committee that includes all 15 Council members, monitors sanctions against the Taliban and al Qaeda. It announced its decision on Friday.

Some 132 Taliban members remain on the list and are subject to a travel ban, an arms embargo and a freeze of all their assets overseas. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is seeking negotiations with his country's former rulers, had submitted a list of 10 names, among 30 to 50 people he would like to have delisted but has not submitted the paperwork.

In addition to the 132 Taliban members, the U.N. blacklist has 256 individuals and 91 businesses or organizations associated with al Qaeda.

My favorite of the trio is Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, labeled as a former ambassador to the United Nations, although the world body never recognized the Taliban government that ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion in 1991. Mujahid, as he is known, was the Taliban's New York contact for the United Nations and other diplomats, including Americans.

At a news conference in July 2000, I asked him about women. He said often foreign relief groups use women as spies and that "about 35,000 women were employed as secret agents" by the former Soviet Union, which had occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

"Due to the issue of women, regimes have been toppled," Mujahid said, at a time when the Taliban official in charge of "vice and virtue," Mullah Mohammed Turabi, had for a time barred impoverished women from getting help from foreign relief agencies. Mujahid is considered a "moderate Talib" by Karzai and others and says he wants an end to violence.

The most famous of the three outside of Afghanistan is Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who wrote My Life with the Taliban. He is a founder of the Taliban, a former ambassador to Pakistan and a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay until 1995 -- and despises the United States. He helped Karzai make contact with the on-again, off-again peace talks with the Taliban.

The third man is Abdul Satar Paktin, a former deputy health minister and a foreign ministry official. The two dead men are Abdul Samad Khaksar and Muhammad Islam Mohammadi.

And the dead live on...

Reviewing the long list, to cull out at least the dead, has proved difficult with Russia, who is against many of the delistings, fearing it would free up frozen assets that could fund the Taliban.

There are an estimated 25 dead militants still on the blacklist. Another 28 are suspected of having died, U.N. officials say. One problem is getting death certificates for the deceased. The committee's chairman, Austrian Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, has led a major review of the list.

Still, the committee has been embroiled in controversy since its inception after al Qaeda's role in the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The list has been expanded since then, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Once a name gets on the list, removing it needs the approval of all 15 Council members, giving each nation a veto.

European courts have been the target of groups, charities and individuals on the list with the accused saying that the committee has no proper judicial review and some diplomats, particularly Liechtenstein's UN ambassador, Christian Wenewaser, arguing for a better system.

In December, the Council approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution to establish an impartial ombudsperson and a Canadian lawyer and judge, Kimberly Prost, was appointed in July. But Council members would still have to approve any of her recommendations.

Still, the negotiations with the Taliban that Karzai is initiating may not bode well for women. Although one condition in the reconciliation process is that anyone who wishes to rejoin the political mainstream has to lay down weapons, end violence, renounce al Qaeda and respect the constitution and laws of Afghanistan, which guarantee women's rights.

Human Rights Watch, for example, said women in Taliban-controlled areas are today subject to similar oppression as under the Islamist regime when girls could not go to school or leave home without a male relative, to say nothing about wearing the burqa. So the question is: who is going to protect the women and girls?