Afghanistan: Former envoy to US says sanctions against Taliban are not the solution

Adela Raz, former ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States, said Monday in a discussion organized by the Hudson Institute that sanctions against the Taliban are not the solution to the crisis in Afghanistan.

In the discussion with the former ambassador of Pakistan to the United States Husain Haqqani, on the state of Afghanistan, Raz said: “Sanctions were not effective in many countries, and it will not be effective in Afghanistan.”

However, she made it clear that while she was not in support of sanctioning the country, she does “support sanctions on the Taliban’s leadership.”

Haqqani agreed with her and said sanctions hurt the people of the country but left the ruling class largely untouched.

“People in power know how to evade sanctions for themselves,” he said. “We saw that in Iraq. Saddam Hussein and his regime did all right.”

Haqqani said however that in his opinion, the Taliban’s desire for acceptance on the world stage should be leveraged to secure greater freedom for the people. “The Taliban are really eager for international recognition and acceptance, being able to be normal in the world,” he said.

“If we do not normalize the Taliban, there will be forces within the Taliban and within Afghan society that will reassert themselves politically,” he added.

Raz in turn said one solution could be to enhance the protection of Taliban dissidents, while another could be to strengthen the people of Afghanistan’s access to the internet. She said Elon Musk’s Starlink could be a potential avenue to achieve this.

Raz said Taliban opponents “are on the ground. They are the ones who raise their voices.”

“We have to find tools inside the country that would help them to be protected,” she said while both diplomats strongly ruled out U.S. military engagement in the nation.

On the subject of girls going to school, Raz referred to the “hypocrisy” involved on the Taliban’s part. She said some of their leaders’ families live outside the country and their daughters attend school.”

In a summary of their discussion, Haqqani said there are a few things that both he and Raz agreed on.

“First of all is that the notion that a few more concessions to the Taliban and negotiating with them is all that is needed is wrong; the second is that the Taliban have an ideological worldview and we should be aware of that and we should not think that that worldview is going to change easily,” he said adding “thirdly we have to think about the people of Afghanistan and I think that humanitarian assistance needs to come to them but it needs to come to them in a way in which it does not freeze the political status quo and does not empower the oppressors.

“Fourthly the United States needs to get over this overly simplistic view that was popular under the Trump, and became popular under the Biden Administration as well which is that Afghanistan is not strategically significant and therefore America can just afford to walk away from it,” he said.

He also said there should be concern about the spill over into regional countries in the event of Afghanistan becoming a “failed state”.

Haqqani said his recommendation was that “the United States needs to pay more attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan than it is doing at the moment, and at the same time go beyond just thinking about tinkering with sanctions.”

He said there was a need for a more “nuanced policy.”

Haqqani also stated that Thomas West, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, is struggling to find a way to negotiate with the Taliban citing a few examples.

“For example the resettlement of all those American citizens and others whom the Americans would like relocated out of Afghanistan – that’s a huge enterprise that’s a very difficult one – to talk to the Taliban about.”

Haqqani also said that US President Joe Biden needs to adopt a different attitude, that the country is “not important”. He said that Biden will not even answer questions on Afghanistan at press conferences.

“He wants to actually act as if what happened in Afghanistan didn’t happen and somehow Afghanistan doesn’t matter, and that … it’ll go away, it won’t go away.”

Haqqani noted that questions are being raised in Congress, but that “frankly we have a dysfunctional Congress; nobody’s actually had a serious hearing on Afghanistan; nobody wants to talk about Afghanistan in the way in which the United States did not succeed in doing what it wanted to.”

He also pointed out that “the media interest in Afghanistan has waned so much”

Raz meanwhile said that while focus was being paid to the issue of girls not being allowed to attend high school, very little was being said about what is happening with the school curriculum in the country – which was directly impacting young men at school.

She said the Taliban was “going towards a radicalization of society.

“There is a gradual change in the curriculum and a very drastic radicalization,” she said.