January 28, 2022

Let’s not legitimize and empower Taliban with US collaboration

Originally published in Straight Arrow News

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, and the U.S. could make the situation worse by working with the new Taliban government.

Some argue the United States should collaborate with the Taliban to help Afghanistan and its people. Yes, the Afghan people need our aid; their situation is dire.

Half of the population – about 22.8 million people – face severe food shortages this winter. Drought, economic crisis, and conflict have severely affected food production in the country.

The Afghanistan economy has entirely collapsed due to steps the West took in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban’s rise to power and ongoing sanctions. 

After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the West cut off almost all foreign assistance and froze billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s assets. US sanctions imposed on the Taliban since 1999 remain in place in addition to the slew of sanctions the US has imposed against individual leaders connected to terrorism in the two decades since 9/11.

Sanctions have had a chilling effect on aid organizations’ activities in Afghanistan, complicating their operations and making financial institutions unwilling to work in the country for fear of missteps. 

The Biden administration has taken steps to better enable emergency relief operations and is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to flow through humanitarian organizations.

If all of that support were directed toward the Taliban, it would legitimize the group’s authority and erase the Taliban’s brutal history. It also risks encouraging other terrorists groups in the region.

Al Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, the Sahel, and Somalia already seek to emulate the Taliban’s success.

In Syria, leaders of the militant group Hayat Tahrir al Sham have exchanged battlefield fatigues for business suits. Hayat Tahrir al Sham publicly broke ties with al Qaeda in 2016 but has imposed Islamist governance across parts of northwest Syria. Its role as the local powerbroker has led to calls for the US to lift the terrorist designation from the organization.

In the Sahel, the al Qaeda-linked group has actively sought to negotiate a political settlementakin to that of the Taliban’s in Afghanistan, arguing that its terror attacks have never been on Western soil.

In Somalia, similar lines of argument have called for engagement with al Shabaab, even though it is still part of al Qaeda. 

Working with the Taliban might seem like the best way to help the Afghan people in this time of crisis. But it will only serve to strengthen a repressive, Islamist regime, and hand victory to the terrorists. The United States should continue to provide humanitarian relief to Afghanistan—just not through the Taliban.