The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday gave the Taliban a month to surrender U.S. embassy bombing suspect Osama bin Laden and close "terrorist" training camps or suffer new sanctions, including further restrictions on international flights. The move sparked anger in Afghanistan, ravaged by 20 years of war, brutal poverty and persistent drought.
"These are cruel sanctions, unjust, irrational and unilateral," Mullah Abdul Zalam Zaeef, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, told a news conference.
The Taliban ordered an immediate boycott of U.S. and Russian products and a halt to U.N.-mediated talks with the opposition fighters who are battling the Taliban in Afghanistan. They also promised to close the office of the U.N. negotiator and expel its eight-person staff when the sanctions take effect.
Other U.N. and charity aid workers won't be affected, Zaeef said. All U.N. international staffers already have left Afghanistan, fearing a backlash.
A resident in Kabul echoed the thoughts of many on the streets of the beleaguered Afghan capital.
"Step by step the international community is killing Afghanistan," said Mohammed Zahir, 55. "Slowly, slowly they are letting us die."
The United States and Russia, former superpower rivals over Afghanistan, lobbied the 13 other U.N. Security Council members hard to adopt the resolution. They argued the country was a "haven of lawlessness" whose hard-line Islamic rulers protect terrorists at home and support terrorism abroad.
"The Taliban leadership harbors the world's most wanted terrorist: Osama bi Laden," deputy U.S. ambassador Nancy Soderberg said, stressing that the Saudi exile is but one of many terrorists in the country. "Let no one misunderstand: They remain a continuing threat to us all."
The sanctions also call for an arms embargo on the Taliban, ban international travel by Taliban officials and close Taliban offices outside the country. U.S. and Russian officials say humanitarian exemptions mitigate any impact on ordinary Afghans.
The sanctions will go into effect in one month if Taliban authorities fail to close Afghan "terrorist" camps and deliver bin Laden to the United States or a third country for trial in the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Taliban leaders have refused to hand the Saudi exile over. They also have denied allegations that the camps are used to train Chechen rebels, who are fighting for independence from Russia.
"Our position on Osama is unchanged," Information Minister Qadratullah Jamal told The Associated Press on Wednesday in Kabul. "There is no evidence against Osama...The United States and Russia are using the excuse of Osama and terrorism but really it is the Islamic system of the Taliban they want to destroy."
Aid groups and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan objected to Tuesday's resolution, saying residents of Afghanistan likely will suffer.
China and Malaysia abstained, voicing humanitarian worries but also objecting to a one-sided arms embargo when the United Nations is trying to bring the Taliban army and its opposition to the negotiating table. The Taliban rule 95 percent of Afghanistan but are still fighting an opposition group in the north.
Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov doubted a new round of talks announced last month would have resulted in progress anyway.
Several council members, including France, the Netherlands and Canada, expressed concern at the implications of new sanctions on the impoverished country.
But no one was willing to block the resolution outright since opposition would amount to support for the Taliban army, which has imposed a strict brand of Islam in the parts of Afghanistan it controls. The Taliban bans women from working, limits schooling for girls, imposes harsh and public punishments, and requires men to pray in the mosque and grow beards.
Neighboring Pakistan objected more strenuously: It warned Wednesday that the sanctions will add to a humanitarian disaster at its doorstep.
Thousands of Afghans took up a vigil on the border pleading with Pakistan to open its gates. Poor Pakistan receives limited international aid and no U.N. assistance to feed or house the 2 million Afghan refugees already living in the country.
Militant Islamic groups headquartered in Pakistan warned that the sanctions could create more enemies in the Islamic world.
In the streets of Kabul, meanwhile, there was bewilderment and fear.
"Why is the United Nations doing this to us?" 45-year-old Bimullah Balkhi asked as he and hundreds of people waited in frigid temperatures to get a bus toward Pakistan. "We have so many problems in this country."