The Afghan government has been pressing for changes to the consensus requirement in a bid to limit challenges to de-listing Taliban leaders prepared to discuss a peace deal, he said. But those changes would have to be approved by the full Security Council, and it is unlikely that Russia will accept them.
Under the current system, the 132 Afghans on the Taliban list can be granted temporary exemptions from the travel ban. That provision has allowed several former senior Taliban officials who switched to the government side to travel in recent years to Saudi Arabia to explore peace talks and abroad for medical treatment.
A temporary exemption would allow Shahbuddin Delawar, a senior Taliban political figure, to fly to Paris next week for a conference with other Afghans, including former members of the Northern Alliance, a guerrilla coalition that battled the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.
A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said this week that the insurgents would send representatives to the conference “to convey our demands to the world, explain our policies and share our sentiments with the delegates.”
The sanctions also have been laxly enforced. U.S., German, Pakistani and Qatari officials apparently looked the other way when Taliban representatives based in Pakistan traveled to Germany last year, and Qatar this year, for secret consultations with U.S. officials as part of an Obama administration effort to kick-start direct talks with the Karzai government. That effort collapsed when the Taliban pulled out in March.
The new peace plan would end such breaches. It requires that insurgent leaders willing to participate in peace talks be removed entirely from the U.N. list during the first half of next year as one in a series of “concrete steps to initiate a formal process of direct negotiations” that would be held in the second half of 2013.
U.S. officials continued to decline to comment on the new plan, although privately several acknowledged its existence.
The plan was drafted by Karzai and his inner circle in close cooperation with Pakistan and was delivered last month to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Salahuddin Rabbani, the head of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, according to a person familiar with the matter, who requested anonymity because of its sensitivity.
The plan, a copy of which was obtained by McClatchy, diminishes the U.S. role in the peace process, although Washington still would have considerable input, including shaping the terms for initiating the direct negotiations.
Pakistan, however, assumes a pivotal role, reflecting the widespread belief that the Pakistani army exerts significant influence with insurgent leaders based along the country’s border with Afghanistan. By taking over the effort to arrange direct contacts between the Karzai government and Taliban leaders, Pakistan would help select insurgent negotiators.
The proposal, however, is fraught with numerous potential pitfalls. They include a refusal to participate by all Taliban leaders, who have consistently rejected direct talks with Karzai until all foreign troops leave Afghanistan.
Moreover, there is no mention of the Haqqani network, the most ruthless and effective militant group, which was placed on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations in September and whose leaders allegedly maintain close ties to Pakistan’s top intelligence service.
The new plan is likely to overshadow talks on the withdrawal of U.S.-led international troops by the end of 2014 that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is to hold in Kabul, where he arrived Wednesday on an unannounced visit.