KABUL, Afghanistan — The Afghan government has asked the United Nations to remove the names of five former senior Taliban members from its terrorist blacklist, including the man who ran the extremist regime's feared religious police, McClatchy has learned.
The government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai views the U.N. blacklist as the primary obstacle to starting peace talks with the Taliban, since anyone who's on the blacklist risks arrest if he's seen in public. All five of the former Taliban have been named to the 70-member High Peace Council, which the Afghan government set up last year to try to forge a political settlement, increasingly convinced that the war effort is going nowhere.
U.N. approval of the request, made formally by the Afghan government to the U.N. Security Council in a letter dated Feb. 27, is by no means certain. While most of the international community, including the United States, agrees in principle to delisting those who've given up the armed struggle, in practice the process is slow. Russia, whose troops fought — and lost — a bloody war against the Taliban, has been particularly reluctant to remove any names from the blacklist, even of those Taliban members who've died.
"Internationally, the High Peace Council body is being supported. So members of the High Peace Council should be accepted. Yet they're still on the blacklist," said Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the deputy national security adviser.
Among those whose delisting the government is requesting is Maulvi Qalamudin, the former deputy head of the notorious Department of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
All five already are "reconciled" with the Afghan government, and have lived freely in Afghanistan for a number of years.
Diplomats in Kabul said that the Afghan government often pushed the process of delisting without providing sufficient documentation to prove that individuals no longer were involved in terrorism. But Abdali complained that "There is a criteria for listing but no specific criteria for delisting."
In the last six years, Abdali said, just 15 names have been removed from the blacklist. He said the issue was mired in a "big, broad, unnecessary bureaucracy," while some members of the Security Council were "reluctant."
He also said that the delisting process must include current Taliban, as that was what the peace talks required — a much more controversial step. Washington sees many of those who are still in the Taliban leadership is dangerously close to al Qaida.
"Having them (current Taliban) on the list means that there is no trust. That is raised by the Taliban all the time when they meet us. How can we expect them to be reconciled if they are not wanted?" Abdali said.
The terrorist list includes Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar and al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden. Blacklisted people can't travel legally without special permission.
The other four High Peace Council members on the list, all of whom held official positions in the Taliban government, are Arsalan Rehmani, the former deputy higher education minister; Rahmatullah Wahidyar, the ex-deputy minister for martyrs and repatriation; Saeedur Rehman Haqani, the former deputy minister for mines and industries; and Habibullah Fawzi, a Taliban diplomat who served in Pakistan and elsewhere. All are considered moderates in the Taliban regime, which grabbed power in the mid-'90s and ruled until a U.S.-led international operation ousted it in October 2001.
Qalamudin, however, was the chief enforcer of the Taliban's brutal, medieval Islamic rule, which banned television, music and education for girls, required men to grow long beards and forced women to stay inside unless they were dressed in all-enveloping burqas and accompanied by close male relatives.
Qalamudin's minions beat women and men in the street for not following the strictures. He also issued his own edicts, including, on one day in 1997, a ban on women wearing makeup or high heels — or any shoe that "makes noises" when they walk. Qalamudin was captured in Kabul in 2003 but was released in 2005.
Last month, Washington signaled a more positive position on talking to the Taliban, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "an intensified diplomatic push" was needed to "support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al Qaida."
A representative of the American Embassy in Kabul, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.S. government was "working on a case to case" basis with other Security Council members to consider removing Taliban names on "merit."
Separately, while visiting Kabul on Monday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. would be in a position to meet a pledge to start pulling out some troops from Afghanistan in July.
"While no decisions on numbers have been made, in my view we will be well-positioned to begin drawing down some U.S. and coalition forces this July even as we redeploy others to different areas of the country," Gates said.
(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent. Special correspondent Hashim Shukoor contributed to this article from Afghanistan.)
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