On 17 June 2011, the Al-Qaida and associates sanctions regime was divided into two inter-related committees, one focused on Al-Qaida (UNSCR 1989) – which was added as Episode 4 to the original Al-Qaida and associates case – and the other focused on the Taliban (UNSCR 1988). Resolution 1988 created a new Afghanistan Sanctions Committee targeting the Taliban as a threat to peace, stability and security of Afghanistan. The original AQ Monitoring Team provides support and recommendations for both the Taliban committee as well as the 1267 Committee. However, individuals designated under the Taliban Committee do not have recourse to the Ombudsperson, only to the Focal Point, as in the case of other sanctions committees.
While the 2001 NATO and Afghan military action had some success in containing the Taliban insurgency, territorial gains were reversible, and led to renewed Council consensus that the Afghan-led reconciliation process should remain the primary objective. However, talks with the Taliban remained sporadic and attacks continued; the November 2012 Karzai 5-step Peace Process Roadmap to 2015 was intended to encourage resumption of talks through the release of prisoners and selective removal from sanctions lists.
As the United States under the Obama administration decided to engage in negotiations with the Taliban in 2010, two parallel series of meetings were facilitated; one by the Germans in Munich and the other by the Qataris in Doha. Moves to open a Taliban office in Qatar, exchanges of prisoners by the Taliban with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and of Guantanamo prisoners held by the United States appeared to advance talks, as the Taliban indicated an initial openness to power-sharing in Afghanistan.
UNSCR 2082, adopted on 17 December 2012, allowed for temporary exemptions that would make it easier for listed Taliban individuals (many of whom live outside Afghanistan) to travel to participate in peace and reconciliation talks. The Afghan government pressed for even greater flexibility to approve exemptions and allow additional time for consideration of listing/de-listing decisions in order to facilitate greater Afghan ownership of the peace process. Travel sanctions in particular was an important instrument in the incipient reconciliation process, although there were numerous reports of evasion.
While at the peak of the negotiations in 2011 and 2012 there were up to 12 different indirect channels of communication between the United States and the Taliban, the peace process did not advance further at that stage. In 2013, there were important setbacks: increased levels of violence against military and civilians (to levels not seen since 2010) and the Taliban’s public declaration in August 2013 that it would not participate in 2014 elections and would continue to wage war. The group made intensive efforts to disrupt the presidential elections, including assassination of candidates, and the frequency of armed attacks increased substantially in the period leading up to and immediately after the elections.
In spite of the Taliban’s efforts, the 2014 elections were relatively successful and had a higher turnout than previous ones. Following a period of uncertainty about the results, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai became President and Abdullah Abdullah was named Chief Executive. At the end of 2014, Afghan forces became fully responsible for security in the country as ISAF (established by UNSCR 1386 on 12 December 2001) left the country. A new, smaller non-combat NATO mission remains in place.
While there was no appreciable territorial gain (or loss) by the Taliban, according to the 2015 Monitoring Team report, the continued flow of revenue from the Taliban’s longstanding association with criminal networks, including narco-traffickers, remained a challenge to the fragile security situation in Afghanistan. The arms embargo was of limited utility, as most arms remain available to the Taliban within Afghanistan, where a violent insurgency with the presence of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) continued to take place.
On 7 July 2015, a new round of peace-talks began with the participation of China, Pakistan, and the United States, an initiative that proved to be divisive within the Taliban. Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was declared dead by Afghanistan on 29 July 2015, after a statement supporting peace talks attributed to Omar was denounced by one of the factions within Taliban, which opposed the negotiation, by arguing that the leader had been dead since 2013. Talks were suspended after the announcement, as the new Taliban leader Mullah Mansour rejected direct negotiations with the government (but allowed the Taliban political commission in Doha to pursue negotiations “in their own capacity”).
UNSCR 2255, adopted on 22 December 2015, emphasized the threat posed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to peace in Afghanistan and decided states should enhance vigilance over their nationals and individuals under their jurisdiction who engage with materials relevant to their production. It also specified that the use of proceeds derived from crimes, including the illicit cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotic drugs originating in and transiting through Afghanistan and trafficking of precursors into Afghanistan, travel of listed individuals, provision of Internet hosting or related services, and ransom payments were also subject to the sanction measures.
While peace negotiations with the Taliban had made little progress, the national unity government reached an agreement with Hezb-i-Islami militant group on 18 May 2016, whose leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar had been designated for sanctions (in the 1267/1989 sanctions regime) in 2003. At the time, Hekmatyar was under financial pressure due to the implementation of UN and US sanctions in Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey. The deal was formally signed in September 2016 and the militant, once called the “butcher of Kabul,” was delisted on 3 February 2017.
Following the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 by a US drone strike, the group appointed Haibattulah Akhhundzada to the position. While the new leader was questioned over his capacity to lead the fractured Taliban, the group has largely maintained its military capabilities and funding. The Taliban continued to have a diverse revenue stream, generated primarily from narcotics, mining, extortion, ransom payments, and external donations, with the Taliban’s involvement with the narcotics economy accounting for up to 50% of the group’s revenue. The Taliban also continued to obtain new weapons and military technology, and remained militarily active in the country.
In 2018, the fighting season saw a significant increase in violence and assaults on provincial capitals. Although there have been strains between the two groups in the past, according to the Monitoring Team, “Al-Qaida remains closely allied with and embedded within the Taliban. The Taliban provide an umbrella group and operating space for about 20 terrorist groups broadly aligned with Al-Qaida and Taliban objectives.” In contrast, ISIL has an adversarial relationship with the Taliban, and was largely funded by its core operation in Syria and Iraq. The Monitoring Team estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 foreign terrorist fighters were part of the various groups operating in Afghanistan.
In February 2018 Ashraf Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, extended an offer of peace talks with the Taliban, suggesting the group could be recognized as a political party if it rejected the use of violence and engaged in negotiations. The Taliban remained reluctant to negotiate, although there may have been internal debates on the issue. In June 2018, the Afghan government and the Taliban agreed on a cease-fire over the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival. The truce was respected and widely welcomed in the country, but a suggestion to extend it indefinitely was rejected by the Taliban.
In July 2018, the United States and the Taliban kicked off a new round of direct peace negotiations, which, following numerous iterations, led to an agreement in principle on the gradual withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in exchange for a commitment from the Taliban to stop attacks against US targets and its allies. In September 2019, the signing of the agreement at a planned Camp David summit was delayed by the United States due to the Taliban being allegedly responsible for the killing of an American soldier and 11 others in a car bomb attack.
In September 2019, Afghan presidential elections were held successfully, but with a very low turn-out. Although no mass casualties were registered, hundreds of incidents led to 277 civilian casualties, in a wave of violence almost entirely attributed to the Taliban. On 18 February 2020, Ashraf Ghani was announced the winner of the elections, and reached an agreement with the opposition for the recognition of his reelection.
On 29 February 2020, the US-Taliban agreement was finally signed by the parties. The document establishes a timeline for the reduction of US troops in Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge by the Taliban not to enable groups targeting the US or its allies in Afghanistan. On that same day, the United States and the Government of Afghanistan issued a joint declaration laying out principles for a comprehensive peace agreement in the country. Intra-Afghan peace negotiations, a requirement first laid out at the start of negotiations, were to be initiated as soon as possible.
UNSCR 2513 (10 March 2020) endorsed the US-Taliban agreement and the joint US-Afghan declaration. Following consultations within the Council, the text states the Council’s readiness to review the status of designated individuals under the 1988 regime with a view to support the peace process once intra-Afghanistan negotiations have been initiated. The delisting of individuals designated on UN sanctions lists were not, therefore, a part of the US-Taliban negotiations, but rather are expected to play a role in support of the broader Afghan peace negotiations. In September 2020, the first round of intra-Afghan negotiations was held in Doha.
Coerce and/or induce elements of the Taliban to meet the reconciliation conditions agreed to by the Afghan Government and the international community (including renouncing violence, severing ties to AQ, and respecting the Afghan constitution).
Constrain the Taliban from using military force against the Afghan government.
Signal support of the Afghan Government’s peace efforts, and to the Taliban of the potential benefits of reconciliation with the government.
Arms imports embargo (individual / entity), asset freeze (individual / entity), and travel ban (individual) on Taliban and associates.
Maximum number of designees during the episode: 136 individuals and 5 entities, currently remaining on 135 individuals and 5 entities
UN sanctions should have little impact on the general population since they are focused exclusively on specific individuals and entities.
New Sanctions Committee created, monitoring team in place (common to Al-Qaida and associates and Taliban). Designation criteria were specified and targets designated. Enforcement authorities specified.
While the Taliban has joined reconciliation talks, violence has continued, and no substantial concessions have been made by the group. The Taliban made significant efforts to disrupt the 2014 and 2019 presidential elections, and reconciliation remains subject to internal agreement between Afghan parties. The Taliban signed an agreement with the United States involving the withdrawal of US troops, and initiated a new round of negotiations with other Afghan parties, but it is too early to tell whether those will succeed.
Some targeted individuals have demanded de-listing as a prerequisite to engagement in talks; emphasis by the government on the need for flexibility to remove listed individuals and increasing importance of travel for reconciliation talks indicates that sanctions have been important for some individuals, but progress in the Afghan comprehensive peace negotiations has not been substantive. Military engagement with Afghan forces (and previously ISAF) was significant to the outcome, and domestic reconciliation and other diplomatic efforts are also underway. UN sanctions were not a major factor in the Taliban negotiations with the United States, but they remain relevant for the intra-Afghan peace process.
Major financial networks linking the Taliban with the narcotics industry have been disrupted, but the Taliban continues to have access to resources (primarily through forms of taxation/extortion), control significant territory, and use violence to achieve its political objectives.. According to a 2018 Monitoring Team Report, the scale and depth of its cooperation with criminal networks have increased.
Listings remain relevant in the management of the peace process; frozen assets are reported, but military engagement produces the greatest constraint to the Taliban, who are able to substitute outside contributions with revenue derived from the territory they control. There has been no significant limitation to the Taliban’s access to arms.
The creation of the new sanctions committee (the 1988 Committee) revived the sanctions against the Taliban at the beginning of the episode (which had previously been secondary given the emphasis on Al-Qaida in the 1267 regime after 2001). The addition of names and of flexibility for travel exemptions differentiating among the Taliban legitimates some, but strongly stigmatizes others (particularly the Haqqani Network).
Sanctions played an important role in early attempts of reconciliation, with listing and de-listing reinforcing bilateral and multilateral negotiations with the Taliban.
Increase in corruption and criminality, harmful effects on neighboring states, enhancing stature of targeted individuals, humanitarian consequences.