The war in Afghanistan did not end when US and UK troops left Kabul airport last year; it simply took a new, but still lethal, form.
President Joe Biden’s response to the Taliban’s military humiliation of America has been a scorched earth policy designed to cause the greatest amount of economic damage to what was already one of the world’s poorest countries.
Other methods of prosecuting this war included freezing Afghan state assets in New York. Sanctions were threatened against banks and other foreign companies doing business in Afghanistan. It has resulted in the suspension of payments from the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). It meant that the International Monetary Fund would not be able to provide emergency financial assistance to Covid-19.
The statistics do not capture the full picture of people who are so desperate for food that they are willing to sell their young daughters into marriage or have their organs harvested for cash. What is clear is that, rather than targeting the Taliban selectively, the US and its European allies are inflicting collective punishment on an entire country in the mistaken belief that doing so will somehow uphold Western values. Allowing children to go hungry violates Western values. Closing schools because teachers are not being paid is contrary to Western values. Washington has lost the war and is now losing the peace.
Afghanistan’s new rulers had no economic plan in August, and they still don’t six months later. To some extent, they don’t need one because they already have an alibi: the economy is a mess because Americans decided to make it that way. There is no evidence that impoverishing the Afghan people is bringing about regime change. What it is doing is ensuring mass unemployment and widespread poverty, which creates ideal conditions for terrorism and a refugee exodus.
Biden has a clear issue. It would be unseemly for the White House to soften its stance after so many American lives were lost during a two-decade war that ended in failure. It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that if Donald Trump had won the election in 2020 and pursued the same policy, there would have been a lot more uproar.
True, some sanctions have been eased slightly to allow banks to conduct business for certain tightly controlled purposes without incurring sanctions. The World Bank, which is deeply concerned about the deterioration of the situation, transferred $280 million from the ARTF to Unicef and the World Food Programme in December. But there has been no real respite. According to the bank, it is in the hands of its shareholders. According to the IMF, it is guided by the international community. In reality, both are taking orders from the United States Treasury and State Department, and have effectively become instruments of American foreign policy.
It is undeniable that the Taliban holds heinous views. It would also be naïve to believe that, given the chaos, aid could be restored without a large portion of it being squandered or stolen. The same could be said of many other countries, but only Afghanistan is being singled out for this heinous form of retaliation.
The following will occur at some point. The Americans will unfreeze Afghanistan’s foreign-currency reserves. The easing of sanctions will provide a foundation for the economy, allowing non-humanitarian aid to be provided. The central bank will begin operations. Discussions with the IMF on a conditional bailout package will be permitted to begin. The World Bank will restart its programs in an effort to prevent the gains in human development that it has financed over the last two decades from being lost.
Strong public pressure must be applied to the United States to ensure that this occurs sooner rather than later. China has been rightly condemned for its treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but there has been no comparable mobilization of international opinion against policies that are proving disastrous for millions of innocent and vulnerable Afghans. This must change because what the US is doing is a humanitarian crime. Those who are aware of what is going on but remain silent are complicit in the crime.