UK scrambling to find way to send aid to Afghanistan without violating sanctions

The UK Foreign Office is to hold urgent meetings with banks, financial institutions and NGOs to clarify how to provide humanitarian aid to Afghanistan without breaching US or UN counterterror sanctions.

The takeover of the country by the Taliban, which is internationally designated as a terrorist organisation, presents a legal minefield for charities trying to provide aid to the population.

The UN has imposed two sets of sanctions resolutions against more than 130 members of the Taliban – many now members of the government – and five Taliban “entities” including the entire Haqqani network.

The US has long imposed broader sanctions on the Taliban as an organisation, raising questions about how banks or other financial channels can send aid into Afghanistan without risking falling foul of US Treasury penalties.

A senior Foreign Office official said: “We need to be focused on the art of the possible so we are working to find solutions to get humanitarian aid into Afghanistan. We are talking to international partners several times daily about the best solution.”

The official predicted it would be a complex task to find “safe, legal and transparent payment options into Afghanistan”.

The UK government is expected to convene a meeting next week of British NGOs and financial institutions to set in train a process to find solutions, including possible exemptions.

Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, an associate fellow of the international law programme at Chatham House, said on Thursday that the UN security council had never designated the Taliban as a group subject to sanctions. Instead, it has listed “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities associated with the Taliban”. At present this list includes 135 individuals and five entities, four of which are “hawalas” – money changers – the other being the Haqqani Network.

Some of these individuals are now running Afghan ministries, although few are connected to refugees or humanitarian work.

EU and UK sanctions follow the designations of the UN, but the US has designated the Taliban as a terrorist group, so making anyone connected with the group subject to sanctions and asset freezes, something that has a chilling effect on banks.

Gillard said it was imperative that the US issue a broad dispensation exempting aid into Afghanistan.

UN financial sanctions require states to freeze the assets of designated persons and groups and ensure no funds, financial assets or economic resources are made available to them, either directly or indirectly.

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