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UN Considers Arms Embargo on Afghanistan

by Farhan Haq, Inter Press Service, 16 December 1997


UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 (IPS) - The United Nations is looking at the feasibility of imposing an arms embargo against Afghanistan, following repeated failures by U.N. diplomats to end fighting among the nation's main warring factions.

The 15-nation U.N. Security Council on Tuesday pushed for Secretary-General Kofi Annan to undertake "preliminary studies on how an effective arms embargo could be imposed and implemented in a fair and verifiable manner," Council President Fernando Berrocal Soto of Costa Rica said.

Annan suggested an embargo as one way to curb the massive arms traffic in Afghanistan, although the U.N. chief added he would consider other alternatives if cost estimates for an embargo are too high.

"It is apparent...that large quantities of war-making materials are entering Afghanistan," Annan warned the Council recently. "It is hard to accept the argument that the Afghan warring factions are able to sustain the current level of fighting using only `those weapons and ammunition left by Soviet troops'."

Nor is it credible, Annan argued, that the main Afghan factions - the radical Islamist Taliban, which controls much of the country, and the Northern Alliance combining the previous Islamic government forces and ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Shi'ite Hazara forces - "could afford to procure massive amounts of weapons on the black market and smuggle them into Afghanistan on their own."

That is just what some factions are doing, countered Abdul Hakeem Mujahid, the U.N. representative of the Taliban.

Mujahid contended that the stock of weapons left behind by the Soviets when their decade-old intervention ended in 1989 has been sufficient to keep Taliban troops well-armed. However, the Taliban envoy also accused Iran of supplying weapons, most notably to the Shi'ite faction Hezb-e-Wahdat.

Other factions reportedly also have been armed by neighbouring states. The Taliban is believed to have been aided by Pakistan, Northern Alliance Gen. Ahmed Shah Masoud by Russia and Tajikistan and Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, a former Communist official, allegedly has acquired arms from Uzbekistan.

Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov told the U.N. General Assembly this week that Moscow is convinced that countries are not only providing war materials but also involving foreign military personnel directly in fighting.

"We are ready to discuss specific practical measures, with a view to ban or curtail the supply of arms to Afghanistan," Lavrov said Tuesday. "We are certain that such possible measures should be universal and apply to all parties to the conflict, that they should involve the full range of military products and apply to both air and the entire land border of Afghanistan."

Russia's move towards a ban could prove decisive, since it holds a veto in the Security Council and thus could block any embargo measure which it deems unfit.

For years, however, Afghanistan's neighbours have been unable to agree on joint diplomatic initiatives to resolve the country's post-Cold War conflict. Annan recently called the U.N. role in Afghanistan "little more than that of an alibi to provide cover for the inaction - or worse - of the international community at large."

In recent months, U.N. officials have pointed to several examples of the worsening of the conflict. The World Food Programme warned that a Taliban-imposed blockade on the Hazara communities of the northern province of Bamyan could result in mass starvation.

The Taliban, in return, urged a U.N. investigation into reports that some 3,000 of its supporters were massacred by the forces of a maverick faction leader, Gen. Abdul Malik. U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is investigating the charges, Mujahid noted.

Amid the fighting, some Western business interests are warming up to the Taliban despite the movement's radical interpretation of Islam, which has drawn accusations of discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities.

Leili Helms, a spokeswoman for the Taliban in New York, told IPS that on U.S. company, Union Oil of California (Unocal), helped to arrange the visit last week of the movement's acting information, industry and mines ministers. The three officials met lower-level State Department officials before departing for France, Helms said.

Several U.S. and French firms are interested in developing gas lines through central and southern Afghanistan, where the 23 Taliban-controlled states are located, she added.

Despite the Taliban's military control over much of Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul, the militia movement is recognised as a government only by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Northern Alliance leader Berhanuddin Rabbani is still recognised by many governments as the country's president.

U.N. officials contend that, although Taliban swept through most of Afghanistan in 1995-96, it is now unable to make substantial further gains against the Northern Alliance.

"The Afghan conflict has no military solution," Berrocal Soto said on behalf of the Security Council Tuesday - a statement with which most Afghan leaders explicitly disagree. (END/IPS/fah/mk/97)

Copyright © 1997 Inter Press Service
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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