Stop Starving Afghanistan

The question that U.S. policymakers should ask themselves is whether or not they want the US to be the author of a man-made famine.

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Ali A. Olomi calls attention to the damage being done by US sanctions and asset freezes in Afghanistan:

Despite militarily withdrawing, the United States continues to pursue a policy of financially starving Afghanistan of desperately needed funds in an attempt to force the Taliban to reduce its repression – especially of women – as well as its support for terrorism.

This approach resurrects the American policy toward the Taliban between the late 1990s and the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 – and early signs indicate it will have the same consequences now as it did then. Starving the regime of funding won’t improve its behavior. Instead, it will only lead to prolonged suffering for Afghans.

Last month, dozens of economists implored the Biden administration to free up the frozen assets so that the Afghan economy can begin to function at least somewhat normally. As they said in the letter, “These reserves were critical to the functioning of the Afghan economy, in particular, to manage money supply, to stabilize the currency and to pay for the imports – chiefly food and oil – on which Afghanistan relies.” Thus far, the administration’s response has been to keep the money that by all rights belongs to the people of Afghanistan.

The official line from the State Department is that the US is “looking at mechanisms that could be put in place to see to it that these $3.5 billion in preserved assets make their way efficiently and effectively to the people of Afghanistan,” but this amounts to stealing another country’s money while claiming to be its responsible steward. While the US looks to deliver these assets “efficiently and effectively,” ordinary Afghans are going hungry and dying. There may be legitimate concerns about some of these funds being misused and diverted, but that is not a good enough reason to deprive an entire country of its financial lifeblood.

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Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.