Point & counterpoint | US sanctions: Weeda Mehran — Sanctions can have an impact

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Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the US Treasury Department froze the Afghan Central Bank’s reserves. The Taliban are on the Treasury’s list of “Specially Designated Nationals”.

Against the backdrop of an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, many commentators and analysts have argued that economic sanctions should be lifted to deal with the dire economic situation in the country. Although the effectiveness of economic sanctions is widely debated, a number of studies show that economic sanctions are effective when imposed on countries with small economies and when modest policy objectives are pursued.


Why shouldn’t the United States lift economic sanctions?

First, economic sanctions are a conventional coercive political instrument deployed primarily to achieve foreign policies such as reducing the financial sources of terrorism. The Treasury has more than 30 active sanctions programs against countries and entities such as ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, blocking their access to US-based funds.

By appointing a number of people on various designated terrorist lists to key government positions, the Taliban has made diplomatic engagement very difficult. A typical example is the recent inclusion of Anas Haqqani in a diplomatic delegation to Norway. Haqqani, is a senior member of the Haqqani terrorist network, which has been involved in numerous deadly terrorist attacks, including an attack at the Serena Hotel in Kabul, which resulted in the deaths of seven foreigners, including a Norwegian journalist. His presence sparked outcry among Norwegians and calls for his arrest. Apparently, the Taliban were worried about Haqqani’s possible arrest by the Norwegian police and were preparing to take a number of civilians in Mazar-Sharif as hostages to exchange them for Haqqani if ​​he was detained in Norway.

Moreover, given the close links of the Taliban with a number of terrorist organizations (al-Qaeda, ISIS-K and others) present in Afghanistan, the lifting of economic sanctions will inevitably lead to easier access of these groups to resources. financial.

Second, economic sanctions send a strong message, not only to the Taliban but also to other insurgent and terrorist organizations, that the overthrow of a democratically elected government will have consequences. If the sanctions were to be lifted, the message sent to other terrorist organizations would be that they can come to power through violence and face little consequence. The Taliban’s victory has already boosted the morale of many terrorist organizations. More concessions will further embolden these terrorist groups.

Third, the Taliban cannot be trusted. The lifting of sanctions does not mean that the Taliban will meet international demands. While the United States has made significant concessions such as the unconditional troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and the release of Taliban prisoners, the Taliban has made very few promises and kept even fewer. One of the conditions of the agreement between the United States and the Taliban was that the Taliban engage in an intra-Afghan dialogue in order to reach a political settlement. Instead, the Taliban took control militarily.

The Taliban, emboldened by a successful deal and a landslide victory, see themselves as the de jure ruler. He views any pressure from the international community as interference in Afghanistan’s internal affairs and has threatened to resort to violence if it is not recognized by the international community.

There is no guarantee that the end of sanctions will compel the Taliban to end its harsh policies towards women, its oppressive behavior towards minorities or its reprisals against former government officials and security personnel.

Furthermore, there is a real possibility that international aid and frozen assets from Afghanistan will be diverted by the Taliban rather than reaching Afghan civilians.

Finally, women’s rights and the unfolding humanitarian crisis are the Taliban’s bargaining chips. The Taliban adopted a hard-bargaining tactic that included extreme demands such as foreign recognition, the thawing of Afghanistan’s reserves and an end to sanctions before addressing women’s education and employment.

The Taliban leaders believe that the international community will eventually give in given the humanitarian crisis. If alleviating the dire economic situation was the Taliban’s priority, they would have accepted the Norwegian proposal to open an international bank in Kabul so that Afghans could have access to cash. Instead, the Taliban delegation in Norway demanded that aid and funding be transferred to bank accounts under their control and that the Taliban be removed from the list of terrorist organizations.

Since the redeployment of US forces is highly unlikely, economic sanctions remain the only foreign policy tool with which the US can exert pressure on the Taliban.

The Taliban might be malleable in the face of economic sanctions, but they will certainly pay no heed to international demands should the sanctions be lifted.

Weeda Mehran is Co-Director of the Center for Advanced International Studies and Program Director in the Department of Politics at the University of Exeter in England. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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