Disquiet in Delhi after UNSC aid resolution cuts Taliban more slack

A United Nations Security Council resolution on Afghanistan that was adopted last month has created disquiet in New Delhi even though India backed the resolution.

The resolution provides an exemption from sanctions against the Taliban to allow humanitarian aid and saw Russia and China successfully push for liberal terms of engagement with the Kabul regime with practically no conditions.

Official sources said Resolution 2615, passed on December 22, gives the Taliban an effective “free pass” on the questions of preventing terrorist safe havens on its soil, human rights including gender and minority rights, the formation of an inclusive government minority, and on allowing unhindered access for humanitarian work.

These were the key demands made of the Taliban in an earlier resolution (UNSC resolution 2593) passed on August 31, on the last day of India’s two-month rotating presidency of the Council, and two weeks after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

These conditions have been the main “asks” from the de facto Taliban regime to be granted recognition, and have been reiterated at several regional and international forums on Afghanistan.

“The carve out (from the sanctions) is good for Afghanistan, as it will enable humanitarian assistance to be sent to Afghanistan, it meets every humanitarian requirement. But it also goes far beyond in a way that provides a free hand to the Taliban to solidify their position. And it does not help the cause of Resolution 2593,” said an official.

Resolution 2615 lays out that humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan is not a violation of the sanctions against the Taliban, and permits “the processing and payment of funds, other financial assets or economic resources, and the provision of goods and services necessary to ensure the timely delivery of such assistance or to support such activities”.

It “encourages” assistance providers “to use reasonable efforts to minimize the accrual of any benefits” to Taliban members named in the sanctions list.

It also has a paragraph calling “on all parties in all circumstances to respect the human rights of all individuals, including women, children, and persons belonging to minorities, and comply with their applicable obligations under international humanitarian law” and demanding “all parties allow full, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access for the personnel of United Nations humanitarian agencies and other humanitarian actors regardless of gender”.

However, this is not a condition for the flow of humanitarian aid.

“In a way, 2615 has made 2593 redundant,” the official said, adding that it was not just China and Russia, but also the US and several other countries in the Security Council that backed the “ambiguous” language of the December resolution.

“The West has abdicated its responsibility. Where is the ask on women’s rights? What about the minorities?” the official said.

After the vote, India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations T.S. Tirumurti – India also chairs the Taliban Sanctions Committee — told the Council humanitarian assistance must be scaled up as more than half the population of Afghanistan was facing acute food insecurity, and said the regime must provide “unhindered access” to the UN and other aid agencies.

But he also said that humanitarian assistance should be based on the “principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence; disbursed to all regardless of ethnicity, religion or political belief; and reach the most vulnerable first, including women, children and minorities.”

India has responded to Afghanistan’s crisis by sending vaccines, life-saving drugs and food grains. It has had two public meetings with Taliban leaders and is also said to be in backchannel negotiations with sections of the Taliban. Tirumurti told the Council while the immediate needs of the Afghan people had to be addressed, the international community “must be guided by the requirements set out in resolution 2593”.

In an indication of the complex positioning on Afghanistan by various players in the region and the international community, sharp differences emerged during discussions on several drafts of the resolution with India, a non-permanent member of the Council, and France, one of the Permanent 5, on the same side and China and Russia on the other.

According to the MacArthur Foundation-supported Security Council Report, which provides analyses of happenings at the horseshoe table, Resolution 2615, proposed by the US on December 3, was hard fought over three weeks.

India and France, with a couple of other non-permanent members advised caution, while China and Russia pushed for, and succeeded in getting a more open-ended arrangement, which was also backed by several non-permanent members.

Among the crucial points of difference was what constitutes humanitarian aid, and if salaries to government employees at ministries headed by Taliban leaders, sanctioned under UNSC resolution 1267 (which later became Resolution 1988), or a government department perpetrating an atrocity, such as not allowing girls to attend school, should be considered humanitarian relief.

The language of the final resolution does not address these ambiguities. Another point of difference between the members was on a time-limit for the exemption, whether there should be one at all, and oversight of the distribution and utilisation of the aid to ensure that it was not being appropriated by the Taliban.

India, Estonia, France, and the United Kingdom, which is also a P-5 country, suggested a six-month period for the exemption and a review at the end of it. China and Russia wanted no time limit, making the case that such a restriction would hamper aid operations. The final resolution places no time limit on the exemption, saying only that it will be reviewed after 12 months, and includes no provisions for the consequences of misuse or misappropriation of the funds.

“It is a matter of being clear-sighted in light of decades of armed struggle and collusion with Al Qaeda. The review clause of this exemption one year after its adoption is crucial and the Security Council will have to reconsider its decision on the basis of the facts,” Sheraz Gasri, France’s ambassador to the UN said after the vote.

The Taliban “must provide evidence of their readiness to meet the Council’s expectations and not be allowed to profit from the suffering of the Afghan people”, Gasri said.

She also said the United States “did not coordinate with other members and presented changes to the resolution as cosmetic”.

China’s permanent representative at the UN Zhang Jun said sanctions had led to uncertainty among aid agencies and said “the original draft had deviated from the right track, as it added to obstacles by insisting on an onerous humanitarian reporting mechanism, among other arbitrary restrictions and conditions, which hamper economic cooperation with Afghanistan.” He said he was “pleased that the final draft takes China’s views into account and clarifies key issues”.

China had also pushed for bilateral development assistance to Afghanistan from member states, but this was not included in the final draft that was adopted after a 47-minute discussion on December 22, just before the UN shut down for the Christmas break.

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