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Friday, 19 January, 2001, 09:41 GMT
Afghan fears over UN sanctions
The Afghan people are worried that food prices will rise
By Kate Clark in Kabul

There is widespread confusion among Afghans as to what exactly the new United Nations sanctions will mean.

The sanctions are designed to target the Taleban authorities, to try to force them to expel the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden, whom the Americans accuse of masterminding bomb attacks against them.

It will drive people towards more extremist measures

Chris Johnson, Strategic Monitoring Unit
But that is not the way it is seen on the streets of Kabul.

The public is afraid that sanctions will only make their lives worse.

"Everyone's worried about the sanctions because prices will go up - maybe we won't be able to get flour or cooking oil," said one man. "Some people are saying the United Nations is going to stop their aid programmes, and that's made us worried that everyone will go hungry."

Another man said the sanctions would bring only misfortune.

"The UN should feel guilty about doing this," he said. "We've suffered enough and the economic blockade will mean nothing will be allowed into the city."

Market panic

Afghans mistakenly believe the UN is going to close the borders and withdraw its aid. More trauma and hardship - that is what Afghans are expecting from the international community.

Taleban military soldiers
The UN wants to put pressure on the Taleban
The UN insists its humanitarian work will go on and ordinary people should not be affected by the new measures.

They include a ban on senior Taleban officials travelling abroad except for religious, humanitarian or peace process-related trips, the closure of almost all the Taleban's overseas offices, and a unilateral arms embargo which leaves the opposition still free to buy weapons.

Only a ban on international flights would have a direct economic effect. But that has not stopped people worrying.

The national currency, the afghani, is devaluing and people fear food prices will rise. In Kabul's money market, people are racing to sell local afghanis and buy dollars or Pakistani rupees.

People's worry over sanctions is not surprising given the steady message from the mosques and the state-run media. The UN has been accused of hatching conspiracies against the Afghan nation and against Islam itself.

"Sanctions like this have been imposed many times in the history of Islam and now they are being imposed again," said Taleban information minister Qudrat Ullah Jamal. "When the prophet was calling people to become Muslims, he faced many problems and restrictions.

"He was forced to leave secretly for Medina and he was surrounded and blockaded by the opposition.

"Now the sanctions are being imposed not because of anything that we have done, but because of the hostility that there is towards the Islamic system."

'Extremist measures'

The feeling on the street is not so much anger as perplexity. Why, people ask, has the world abandoned the Afghan people?

Osama Bin Laden
America's most wanted man: Osama Bin Laden
Chris Johnson, the director of a Kabul-based research organisation, the Strategic Monitoring Unit., believes the psychological impact of the sanctions on a people suffering from war, drought and poverty is already massive.

"What they need to be able to see is some light at the end of the tunnel, some hope for a better future for their kids," she said. "And there's a huge belief still that the international community can help to deliver this.

"And what these sanctions are doing is just knocking a huge hole in that, making them feel that absolutely everybody is against them.

"And ironically I think it will have absolutely the opposite effect to that which the United States says is intended, and it will drive people towards more extremist measures because they see absolutely no other way out of the situation they're in."

At the moment, Afghans are simply demoralised rather than angry. But that anger may come, especially if the economic situation gets even worse and the Taleban continues to blame the international community.

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See also:

19 Jan 01 | South Asia
UN imposes new sanctions on Taleban
12 Dec 00 | South Asia
UN staff leaving Afghanistan
08 Dec 00 | South Asia
Pakistan attacks Afghan sanctions
07 Dec 00 | South Asia
US and Russia unite against Taleban
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Who is Osama bin Laden?
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