UN fails to reach agreement to extend Taliban travel ban waiver

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The US proposes reimposing the travel ban on seven of 13 Taliban members, and keeping the exemption for six others.

A United Nations waiver allowing 13 Afghan Taliban officials to travel abroad expired on Friday, as the Security Council failed to reach an agreement on whether to extend the travel exemptions.

China and Russia have called for an extension, while the United States and Western nations have sought a reduced list of Taliban officials allowed to travel to protest against the Taliban’s rollback of women’s rights and failure to form an inclusive government as it promised.

Under a 2011 UN Security Council resolution, 135 Taliban officials are subject to sanctions that include asset freezes and travel bans. But 13 of them were granted exemptions from the travel ban to allow them to meet officials from other countries abroad for peace talks.

In June, the 15-member UN Security Council’s Afghanistan Sanctions Committee removed two Taliban education ministers from the exemption list over the regime’s curtailment of women’s rights.

At the same time, they renewed the exemption for the others until August 19, plus a further month if no member objected.

If no member of the council objects to the travel ban by Monday afternoon, it will come into force for three months.

The US on Thursday proposed reimposing the travel ban on seven of the 13 Taliban officials and keeping the exemption for six others, but limiting their travel only to Qatar, where US-Taliban talks have taken place, council diplomats said.

A rival proposal

Reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, Al Jazeera’s Kristen Saloomey said that China, backed by Russia, has argued that the travel ban exemptions are “as necessary as ever”.

Russia and China made a rival proposal that all 13 Taliban officials be granted travel exemptions for 90 days, but only to go to Russia, China, Qatar and “regional countries,” the diplomats said.

Russia and China objected to the US proposal, the diplomats said, and the United Kingdom, France and Ireland opposed the Russia-China proposal, insisting that the exemption cannot continue for all 13 officials because of the Taliban’s lack of progress on meeting its commitments on women, forming an inclusive government and other issues.

A spokesperson for the Chinese mission at the UN, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council, this week called the Western position linking the travel ban to human rights “counterproductive”.

The exemptions are “needed as much as ever,” the spokesperson said, adding that if reimposing a travel ban is all other members of the council want to do, “clearly they have learned no lessons at all”.

‘Engagement with Taliban needed’

Speaking from Washington, DC, former Afghan ambassador to France and Canada, Omar Samad, told Al Jazeera that engagement with the Taliban is needed to help the Afghan people.

“China and Russia are pushing for a continuation of the exemptions and even extending it to others, while others want them removed because they think the Taliban has not come through with some of their commitments,” said Samad.

On Friday afternoon, diplomats said, the US revised its proposal which would ban travel for seven of the Taliban officials and keep the travel waivers for six others for 90 days with no geographic limits.

Russia and China are now considering that proposal.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, as many as 700 people have been killed and 1,400 wounded even though security on the whole has improved, according to a report last month by the UN political mission in Afghanistan.

It highlighted how women have been stripped of many of their human rights, barred from secondary education and subjected to restrictions on their movements.

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