UN aid workers are hoping for a quick return to Afghanistan after withdrawing ahead of new sanctions imposed this week, but the political wing's future there remains in doubt, officials said Thursday.
Anticipated protests against UN offices have not materialized following Tuesday's decision by the Security Council to broaden sanctions against the ruling Taliban regime for their alleged support of terrorism.
The regime's reclusive leader, Mulla Mohammad Omar, condemned the sanctions but asked people to avoid public demonstrations like those which saw UN offices ransacked after the first round of sanctions were imposed last year.
"We're hopeful that the situation remains stable in Afghanistan and we can go back to the work that we're committed to," a UN relief official said.
Some 60 foreign UN staff pulled out of Afghanistan before the sanctions, leaving their relief operations in the hands of local workers.
On the political side things were less optimistic following the Taliban's vow to "retaliate" if its overseas representative offices are closed, as required under the latest sanctions.
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel said the offices of the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA) could be closed in retaliation, while the peace talks it organized with the opposition would be abandoned.
The sanctions will come into effect in 30 days unless the Taliban comply with the UN resolution demanding they deliver incited terrorist Osama bin Laden for trial and close alleged terrorist camps.
"We know the position of the Taliban and what they have said, and of course we are taking them by their word," one UNSMA official told AFP.
"But it's still not 100 percent sure how they will react. We haven't received any notification of a change in their position."
UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) aid workers have expressed misgivings over the sanctions at a time when a cruel drought is threatening widespread famine in Afghanistan.
They applauded UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's criticism of the Security Council, when he said Tuesday that its resolution "is not going to facilitate peace efforts, nor is it going to facilitate humanitarian work."
"There are differences of opinion in the UN on the use of sanctions and that's exemplified vividly by Kofi Annan's remarks," a UN official said.
Peter Bulling, acting director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, said the sanctions had already pushed the Afghani currency from around 65,000 to the US dollar to 71,000, raising prices of essential items.
"We sincerely hope that the Afghani can stabilize around 68,000 because if not there will be hardship for the people of Afghanistan," he said.
"The staple food is wheat but because of the drought a lot has to be imported from Kazakhstan." -- ISLAMABAD (AFP)
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