After some changes in posture, the UK and other G7 countries have returned to the familiar carrot-and-stick combination: humanitarian aid, international recognition and sanctions as a strategy to maintain some degree of influence over the Taliban.
UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab explicitly threatened sanctions in the Daily TelegraphAlthough the prime minister’s office had already warned that such threats were not helpful when the maximum cooperation of the Taliban is required for evacuation efforts. In practice, all Taliban leaders are already subject to the sanctions.
The UK, despite budget cuts for humanitarian aid abroad, is urging other states to double humanitarian aid in the region, but has said little about how this aid should be managed and delivered.
The European Union has almost quadrupled its budget for humanitarian aid, from € 57 million to € 200 million.
Too early for penalties
EU representatives are not enthusiastic about the sanctions and say that it is too early to discuss this possibility and that it all depends on how the new government behaves.
However, the EU has indicated that humanitarian aid will be subject to how the Taliban government deals with drug trafficking, the rule of law, the treatment of women, corruption and its commitment not to allow that Afghanistan is transformed into a terrorist base. Ministers from NATO member countries spoke of similar conditions last week.
Humanitarian aid within Afghanistan, unlike development assistance, would not be delegated to the Taliban, but in practice it would require their cooperation to allow aid to reach the most vulnerable, including women.
Loans from the International Monetary Fund depend on the government being recognized. The long-term needs are clearly extreme. Afghanistan is ranked 169th out of 189 countries and territories included in the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI).
On the other hand, there is a need to send aid to Afghans forced to leave their homes. According to the UN, 50,000 people have been forced to leave their homes this year, adding to the 2.9 million people registered last year, most of them hosted in Iran and Pakistan.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that, not counting those who migrate legally, between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghan citizens, and between 600 and 700 families, go into exile each week, mostly to the west, in the direction of Iran.
On the surface, the West’s attempt to increase its influence is no different from that of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where the EU provided humanitarian aid but repeatedly refused to allocate funds for reconstruction, unless for the country to commit to political reform.
There is a crucial difference. The West hopes that Russia and China will join in trying to convince the Taliban not to rule in a despotic and theocratic way, which ends up fostering intolerance and terrorism. Penalties may not be necessary if carrots are stacked on the correct side.
That’s what some former UK ministers hope, like Rory Stewart, who tweeted: “The sanctions – unless they are very carefully designed – will only bring pain to innocent Afghan communities and have minimal impact on the Taliban. If we impose blanket sanctions and stop aid in Afghanistan now, we will deepen the humanitarian catastrophe and increase the number of refugees. ”
Mirage of moderation
Western diplomats are surprisingly confident that the Taliban will respond to pressure, even though the Taliban restraint over the past decade has turned out to be a mirage. This is certainly not how Al-Qaeda views the consequences of the US withdrawal or the fighters who forced the government down. Beating the United States on the battlefield and then losing to them in the exchange of goods is hardly the victory they had planned.
Last Monday, the head of the UK’s joint intelligence committee, Simon Grass, spoke by phone with former Afghan finance minister Omar Zakhilwal to understand the scale of the Taliban’s needs and how the aid issue could be addressed. humanitarian from the West.
Zakhilwal said that the Taliban, who have yet to form a government, are under enormous economic pressure due to humanitarian demands throughout Afghanistan. The country, which relied heavily on US aid for more than a decade, cannot shake off foreign aid overnight.
The former head of the central bank of Afghanistan, Ajmal Ahmady, points out that the reserves were 9,000 million dollars, but that, of that number, 7,000 million remain withheld by the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. Ahmady says that the government relied on the shipment of physical dollars, but that this had been canceled by the Biden government as the collapse loomed in Kabul. It also suggests that the Taliban only have access to 0.1% of their own reserves.
But the extent of the West’s influence will also depend on the Taliban’s ability to secure other sources of support, including China, Russia and Iran. Tehran, for example, resumed all oil imports to Afghanistan last Monday.
Taliban funding has been the subject of a great deal of research and even greater speculation. In an article for Lawfare, Jessica Davis, a former analyst for the Canadian intelligence service, notes: “The Taliban tax and extort virtually all economic activity within their domain area. This includes customs revenue, vehicle ownership tax, and natural resources. and agriculture “.
Davis says the opium trade generates about $ 400 million, making it a lucrative source of funding.
But while all of this may have been enough to finance an insurgency, it is not enough to sustain an indebted government, a shaken health system, educational services and refugee camps.
Hameed Hakimi of the Chatham House Asia program warns: “For Afghanistan to overcome these crises and the blatant failure of the state, the Taliban government must find a way to work alongside an international donor community led by the United States. this depends on who leads the new government and how much of the previous human capital can be saved. ”
Translation of Julián Cnochaert