Year of sanctions leaves bin Laden in Afghanistan
By Jack Redden
ISLAMABAD, Nov 14 (Reuters) - One year after U.N. sanctions were imposed to force Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement to hand over Osama bin Laden, the accused "terrorist" remains in his sanctuary and Washington ponders how to step up the pressure.
"The sanctions have by definition been unsuccessful; bin Laden has not been handed over," said a diplomat in Pakistan. "So it will be a time to take stock of where to go from here."
Diplomats say the United States and Russia are discussing new measures such as ordering the closure of the Taleban's foreign missions, banning their representatives from travelling or imposing an arms embargo on them.
The target of this pressure could be Pakistan, one of only three countries to recognise the Taleban and the only viable route for members of the movement to travel or get arms.
But getting new sanctions through the U.N. Security Council is not assured, with both France and China sceptical.
The sanctions imposed on November 14, 1999, a month after they were passed, halted international flights of Afghanistan's state airline Ariana and targeted areas such as bank accounts.
Sheltering the Saudi dissident, accused of blowing up two U.S. embassies, is also costing the Taleban any hope of winning international recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
The Taleban, driven by a radical interpretation of Islam that includes widely condemned restrictions on women, have been willing to pay the price.
In any case, the Taleban have little in the way of financial assets to touch -- their reclusive leader Mullah Mohammed Omar reputedly keeps wads of U.S. dollars in a tin box.
The airline was unimportant and, ironically, Taleban officials now fly back and forth from their country on U.N. flights meant mainly for humanitarian work. The United Nations needs Taleban cooperation to carry out its relief work.
Meanwhile, the United Nations, and specifically the United States, has had to defend the imposition of sanctions on one of the world's poorest countries.
Not only have Afghans suffered through 21 years of war -- which is continuing as the Taleban try to capture the five percent of Afghanistan outside its control -- but the country is facing the threat of famine from the worst drought in 30 years.
"Because the Taleban continued to refuse to hand over indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden to a place where he can be brought to justice, the United Nations imposed sanctions on the Taleban on November 14, 1999," said a statement from the U.S. embassy in Islamabad.
"The sanctions...are carefully targeted to avoid exacerbating the hardships already facing the Afghan people. They do not impede the flow of humanitarian aid, including food and medicine, nor do they prohibit private-sector trade and commerce."
The United States has accused bin Laden of masterminding the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998 that killed more than 200 people. Since then he or his followers have been named as suspects in a range of attacks, including the suicide attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors last month.
As long as bin Laden remains in Afghanistan, Washington is unlikely to let the Taleban have Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations. It is still held by the administration of Burhanuddin Rabbani despite his losing the capital Kabul four years ago and being driven into a remote corner of the northeast.
The Taleban have mounted a diplomatic offensive in recent months hoping for international acceptance but there is no sign they will sacrifice their multi-millionaire ally to gain it.
The Taleban say they will try bin Laden if there is evidence against him but that Washington has not presented any. The position was restated this month in separate meetings in Islamabad with the ambassadors of Britain and the United States.
There is scepticism among diplomats that even Pakistan, the Taleban's closest ally, could produce a change. Afghans have never been compliant to foreign pressure.
The whereabouts of the tall Saudi are not known. But Rabbani's group says bin Laden has moved from Kandahar, base of the Taleban, to a mountain fortress in the centre of the country.
Rather than distancing themselves from bin Laden, the report said exactly one week before the first anniversary of the U.N. sanctions an entourage of Taleban officials escorted bin Laden to a new, safer, sanctuary.
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