Washington Demands Acquiescence in Afghanistan

War and conflict rarely benefit the lives of ordinary people. Indeed, the very nature of war is destructive. In the case of Afghanistan, once the US war and occupation ended, any delusive stability or vitality in the nation’s economy collapsed too.

Numbers and statistics only go so far in describing the human condition of postwar-Afghanistan. The United Nations Development Program reported in September that 72 percent of the Afghan population lives in poverty, with 97 percent at risk. As many as 14 million Afghans are endangered by famine, induced by severe drought that has struck the nation for the second time in three years, threatening to spread malnourishment among one million children younger than five. Much of the population cannot afford or access food and water, the banks are collapsing, and the nation’s financial system has shattered. A threat of terror still persists, to an unknown extent, under the flag of ISIS-K, despite the inauguration of a new Taliban regime and the end of the American war. To make matters worse, the threat of Covid also exists; inadequately funded and undeveloped health providers cannot be expected to provide effective care for millions of people.

Throughout the course of the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban insurgency, Washington spent hundreds of billions on aid and reconstruction for nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, according to a SIGAR report released in July. Recurring annual appropriations from the United States government purportedly developed and maintained Afghan society, covering everything from infrastructure and statecraft to security. According to Michael McKinely, the former ambassador to Afghanistan in 2015 and 2016, around 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget was funded by international donors and the US Agency for International Development. Each year, Congress allocated massive amounts of capital and aid into Afghanistan’s newly designed centralized system; a centralized system that is now controlled by the faction Washington fought against for twenty years.

Leaders in Washington firmly believed that they would have some sort of lasting influence within Afghanistan’s government for some period of time. "That assumption," as Biden assessed in his withdrawal speech, "that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time beyond military drawdown," didn’t hold true. The Taliban marched right on into Kabul, and ultimately became an asset to America’s final withdrawal efforts by providing some form of crowd control outside of the Kabul airport. When the plan faltered and a pro-American presence fled from responsibility, Washington took another course of action. Two days after the US-backed regime fell, an anonymous White House official told The Washington Post that "any Central Bank assets the Afghan government [has] in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban."

In the days and weeks following the Taliban’s resurgence into political power, the group was denied access to billions of dollars worth of reserves and assets held in Afghanistan’s central bank. Around $10 billion was abruptly held by the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, in addition to another $1.3 billion held in international accounts in Switzerland. The International Monetary Fund, responding to pressure from the US government, rejected around $450 million in new monetary stores to the Taliban regime and closed other streams of aid. Ajmal Ahmady, the former acting governor of the central bank, estimated that the Taliban controls around 0.1–0.2 percent of Afghanistan’s total financial reserves, leaving them with next to nothing to alleviate an ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis that Washington created.

The issue here is that Washington caused a fair share of this mess and is now unwilling to help provide any remedy.

The White House has held a constant line since losing the war. The Taliban must earn the trust of Washington. "Any legitimacy, any support," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "will have to be earned." Washington won’t support a regime that doesn’t prescribe higher authority to the rules-based-order and cooperate fully "for purposes of advancing [Washington’s] national interest." Until the Taliban finally lives up to this arbitrary standard, they will not be treated like a real government. "That is our clear leverage," noted Jen Psaki, "and again, our capacities are over-the-horizon capacities, which, by the way, killed two ISIS terrorists just last week," speaking of Zemari Ahmadi and the other innocent civilians killed on August 29.

Yet, haven’t the Taliban mostly abided by Washington’s wishes? They helped provide crowd control during withdrawal, didn’t go out conducting purges against dissidents across the countryside, and helped Americans and Afghan allies leave the country since the departure of American forces. They’re also fighting ISIS-K terrorists. Trust has yet been earned, nonetheless.

Top US and Taliban officials recently met in Doha to engage in their first direct talks since American withdrawal in August. Following the meeting, which US officials reiterated did not amount to any form of recognition of the new Afghan government, the Taliban released a statement saying the US agreed to provide aid to Afghanistan. Without further confirmation, details, or exact estimates of how much aid will be given, Pentagon spokesman Ned Price restated that the US would supply “robust humanitarian assistance, directly to the Afghan people.” Washington has yet to indicate precisely when it will cease controlling Afghanistan’s assets, however.

Washington should not have this much authority over the people in Afghanistan. Sadly, America, in large part, played a critical role in putting them in this situation. This relationship isn’t one of benevolent aid, but one of domination. Governments, including the United States, can continue committing large sums of aid to help stifle the humanitarian disaster, but those fruitful endeavors, which hopefully don’t enrich the pockets of racketeers and warlords, serve as only stepping stones from which more aid can be distributed.

Even as Washington pledges directly to the Taliban to donate aid to the Afghan people, leaders continue to declare that supplying humanitarian assistance shares no link to formal recognition. The Taliban are now the ruling regime in Afghanistan. They’re the ruling class of a newly established centralized nation-state, of some character. Of course, they’re not good guys. But Washington shares extensive ties with other regimes in the region that commit terrible atrocities. How is this circumstance any different? Other governments have reached out to establish rudimentary relations with the new Afghan government – what else is there to do?

Political power doesn’t flow from the legitimacy of international legal orders and petty councils. A prudent foreign policy decision might entail understanding the real circumstances of the situation. At this point, some sort of cooperation with the Taliban is necessary. If alleviating the suffering of war-ridden Afghans is of any importance to Washington’s foreign policy interests, it might serve everyone’s interests to establish ties with the regime in power. Unfreezing Afghanistan’s assets and ending Washington’s sanction regime will produce net positives, for whatever leverage of which Washington speaks has quickly diminished. Unless the west is prepared to usurp the Taliban once again, it might be time to start recognizing them.

At this juncture it’s obvious what’s happening: without foreign aid and support, private investment, and the sanctity of western security, Afghanistan’s economy now teeters on the edge of disaster. And sadly, on the horizon are not duffle bags full of cash and capital, but the omnipresent might of US "over-the-horizon" drone power.

Washington’s imperial policies have wrought great destruction in the Middle East and Africa. The wars have ruined societies and propagated corruption. They have also generated the circumstances in which mass famine in Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan kill millions of people and provide grounds for cholera and typhoid to spread like its 1821. In addition, how many refugees have these wars created?

Even after all of this, Washington still demands that trust must be earned.

Brett Kershaw is a young independent writer, historian, and creator of the NewPublicForum.com – a site created to help foster ideological dialogue, preserve heterodox views and provide an alternative to the corporate press.