Let’s not legitimize and empower Taliban with US collaboration

Katherine Zimmerman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Conservative Opinion

Katherine Zimmerman

Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
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The United States cannot turn its back on the Afghan people and the escalating humanitarian crisis that they face, but this does not mean that it should work with the new Taliban administration that has come to govern. 

Accepting the Taliban as the legitimate authority in Afghanistan erases the Taliban’s brutal history and the role that top Taliban officials have played in supporting al Qaeda. 

Such a move sets a dangerous precedent, especially as other terrorist groups watch the international community’s actions in Afghanistan and prepare to follow in the Taliban’s footsteps. 

Those who argue for the United States to let bygones be bygones and work with the Taliban today cite America’s moral responsibility to help Afghanistan and its people. 

The United States had invested twenty years in Afghanistan, and foreign aid largely propped up the government before the calamitous US withdrawal. 

Without assistance, Afghanistan’s public services now run by the Taliban will almost certainly continue to collapse.

The humanitarian situation is one of the worst in the world and still deteriorating. 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. 

In December, the Biden administration issued additional carve outs for humanitarian activities to better enable emergency relief operations in Afghanistan. The administration just announced another $308 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, to flow through humanitarian organizations and not the Taliban administration to those in need.

The Biden administration should not cave to pressure to work directly with the Taliban administration. High-ranking officials within the Taliban government are under US terrorism sanctions, including the interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his uncle, Khalil, who is the minister of refugees. The Haqqanis are not just Afghan insurgents; they have facilitated relations with al Qaeda and support global jihad. Their continued participation in any Afghan administration, along with that of other US-sanctioned individuals, is part of the problem with the Taliban administration.

Working directly with the Taliban will almost certainly strengthen the group’s hold on power and assumes the Taliban has the Afghan people’s best interests at heart. 

Moreover, to accept the presence of designated terrorists in the Afghan government undermines the impact of US counterterrorism sanctions and lays a path for others to follow. 

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 settlement akin 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.

 


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