Global Policy Forum

UN Starts Curbs on Kabul


By Pamela Constable

Washington Post
November 15, 1999

New Delhi - International flights to Afghanistan were banned and overseas assets of its radical Islamic government were frozen Sunday when the Taleban failed to comply with a UN demand to turn over Osama bin Laden, the fugitive Saudi businessman, to face U.S. charges of terrorism. Taleban officials asked the United Nations on Saturday to postpone such sanctions and called for talks with the United States. But they continued to assert that Mr. bin Laden was an ''honored guest'' and could not, therefore, be handed over to ''infidels.'' Mr. bin Laden, a sworn enemy of the West who has lived in Afghanistan since 1996, is suspected by the U.S. authorities of financing and directing the August 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in which 224 people were killed.

On Sunday, tens of thousands of Afghans marched through the streets of Kabul to protest the sanctions, Reuters reported. Demonstrators threw stones and broke into two UN offices, smashing computers, wrecking gates and windows, and burning the UN flag. The United States, which imposed its own sanctions on the Taleban this year, had pushed for similar UN restrictions. The UN sanctions call on all nations to freeze Taleban's overseas assets and ban aircraft owned, leased or operated by the Taleban from taking off or landing. Exemptions to the flight ban are permitted for humanitarian reasons or to allow the annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.

As the sanctions went into force, authorities in neighboring Pakistan continued to investigate the firing on Friday of rockets at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, a second U.S. diplomatic center and several other buildings that house UN offices and other international facilities. The Pakistani authorities said they had not identified any suspects. But U.S. officials and Pakistani experts said the attacks, which wounded six people, could be a warning not to press Afghanistan or Mr. bin Laden, a hero to many Islamic fundamentalists.

In Washington, the State Department issued a warning to all Americans abroad, urging them not to go to Afghanistan and to be alert to any action by the Taleban. At least a half-dozen radical Islamic groups in Pakistan, many with ties to the Taleban, have warned that they will avenge any foreign move against Afghanistan or Mr. bin Laden. One Islamic cleric asserted last month that his followers would target Americans if the United States attacked Afghanistan. An official for a Pakistani Islamic group said: ''Osama is not just a name. He is a phenomenon that embodies the jihads being fought from Central Asia to Kashmir.''

Mr. bin Laden, an heir to a large Saudi construction fortune, is alleged to have financed numerous attacks by Islamic terrorists. He has denied being behind the attacks, and his whereabouts in Afghanistan is not known. On Friday, the Taleban's top leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, condemned the Islamabad rocket firings, suggesting they were part of a plot to undermine his government's ties with Pakistan and the West. But prior to the attack, other Taleban officials warned that the United States would face divine retribution, including ''storms and earthquakes,'' if it tried to harm Mr. bin Laden. ''We will never hand over Osama bin Laden, and we will not force him out,'' the Taleban's foreign minister, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, said Tuesday. ''He will remain free in defiance of America,'' the foreign minister said, adding, ''We will not hand him to an infidel nation.''

This year, the Clinton administration banned all U.S. trade and investment in Afghanistan because of the Taleban's refusal to turn over Mr. bin Laden. On Oct. 15, the UN Security Council followed suit, giving the Kabul government one month to give up Mr. bin Laden or face more sanctions. Whether the attacks in Islamabad prove to be linked to the sanctions, the incident has highlighted the difficult choice facing Pakistan's month-old military government over its policy toward Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been one of the Taleban's few international allies, and the Kabul regime provided fighters for Pakistan's guerrilla war with India over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir. But Pakistan's new ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, seeks to promote friendly relations with the United States, and his country badly needs Western aid and loans. General Musharraf has said that he will not tolerate Islamic terrorism in Pakistan and that he supports the aim of a ''truly representative'' government in Afghanistan.

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