On Jan. 24, U.S. and European Union representatives met with representatives of the Taliban in Oslo to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. The meeting’s purpose, according to the U.S. State Department, was the “urgency in addressing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan” and the need to “help alleviate the suffering of Afghans across the country.” (state.gov, Jan. 27)
Urgent indeed. The international community has been sounding the alarm for months. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, not mincing words, recently warned the Security Council that Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread” and, in a tweet, separately described daily life as “a frozen hell for the people of Afghanistan.”
The U.S.-E.U. statement focuses primarily on the Taliban’s conduct, particularly charges of women’s and human rights violations. It fails to acknowledge that the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan is the direct and intended result of U.S. and EU economic sanctions.
This failure is no surprise. The imperialist ruling class — organized under the U.S./EU/NATO alliance — has no interest in solving problems of its own creation. To uphold their system of exploitation and oppression, the agents of imperialism conceal from the public their role in creating and profiting from chaos and violence. The legitimacy of bourgeois rule depends on obscuring reality.
Reveal the truth
Our task as revolutionaries is to find the truth and ruthlessly reveal it.
The truth is that the Biden administration responded to the Taliban’s taking power last August by launching an aggressive campaign of economic warfare against the Afghan state and its people, freezing the Afghan government’s assets, denying it access to international banking, blocking its receipt of foreign aid and restricting the import and export of essential goods.
By crippling the Afghan economy and keeping money out of the hands of the Taliban, the imperialists deprived the Afghan government of the revenue to provide for the basic needs of the Afghan people and to create a stable, functioning central administration.
The truth is that no U.S. law or executive order authorizes sanctions against the Afghan government. The Biden administration instead is relying on 9/11-era anti-terrorism sanctions against Taliban officials, which were not to be used against the government of a sovereign state, de facto or otherwise.
As a former senior sanctions official in the Obama administration, Brian O’Toole, has written, these sanctions are more “powerful” now than they were when initially wielded against the Taliban in the early 2000s. (atlanticcouncil.org, Sept. 9)
Given the “increased centralization of global finance and the primacy of the U.S. dollar in cross-border transactions,” U.S. sanctions are capable of “preventing access to international financial markets, even those not involving the United States.”
The International Crisis Group, a pro-imperialist think tank, similarly observed that the U.S. sanctions that were imposed “to weaken the Taliban insurgency (which they failed to do),” are now being used to “crush Afghanistan’s public sector and choke its economy.”
The truth is that the U.S. and NATO spent the last 20 years occupying Afghanistan, killing its people with drones, installing a repressive kleptocracy that made the Taliban look good, creating a wartime economy highly dependent on foreign aid and otherwise creating the conditions for the current catastrophe.
The truth is that the decision to impose sanctions on the Taliban sent the Afghan economy into shock. The value of Afghanistan’s currency, the afghani, has dropped to record lows. Inflation and shortages have sent prices for food and basic goods soaring.
The International Monetary Fund predicts that the Afghan economy could contract by 30% for 2021-2022. As a result of the contraction, food is scarce; half the population is in poverty; unemployment rates have skyrocketed; hospitals and clinics have closed; access to medicine is limited; and salaries for doctors and teachers have gone unpaid.
Afghan people have been forced to sell their homes and household goods to survive. There have been disturbing reports about Afghans having to sell their organs or even their children to put food on the table and survive the winter. While this reality affects the whole population, the most vulnerable sectors of Afghan society are hit the hardest.
U.S. leaders knew they would provoke crisis
The truth is that this crisis was as predictable as it is devastating. The U.S. leaders and their imperialist allies adopted these measures knowing full well that they would destroy the Afghan economy and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.
The New York Times reported Aug. 21 that “Afghanistan is facing the heightened risk of a financial collapse after being propped up for the past two decades by foreign aid that now accounts for nearly half its legal economy” and that “the looming shock threatens to amplify a humanitarian crisis in a country that has already endured years of war.”
The Times then warned on Aug. 24: “Replacing a flood of foreign aid with sanctions threatens to cripple what is already one of the poorest countries in the world.” This is what the Biden administration meant when it repeatedly threatened to turn Afghanistan into a “pariah state.”
And yet, after the Jan. 24 meeting in Oslo, State Department spokesperson Ned Price told the press that the Biden administration was “doing everything we can to facilitate the flow of vital assistance and support to the Afghan people.”
Returning the $9.5 billion that belongs to the Afghan state and lifting the sanctions on the Taliban more broadly are apparently off the table. Price even had the gall to call the U.S. “a humanitarian leader when it comes to Afghanistan,” more proof that those words are meaningless.
The truth is that crushing the economy and social fabric of underdeveloped nations is U.S. foreign policy 101. Afghanistan is one of roughly 40 countries (and counting) that is under attack from U.S. economic sanctions, which are but one tool Washington deploys against nations that refuse to serve the imperialist ruling class. Brute military force is another.
To get the U.S. out of Afghanistan, we need to get the U.S. out of everywhere. To do that, we need to view reality for what it is — not what the ruling-class officials and media say it is — so that the next time an imperialist mouthpiece calls the U.S. “a humanitarian leader” they convince no one.