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Reviews |  It ‘could kill many more Afghans than the last 20 years of war’


A government’s assets, in theory, belong to its people. Andrew Maloney, one of the lawyers representing the 9/11 families, considered this argument and, in an interview with the BBC, gave his answer. “The reality is that the Afghan people did not stand up to the Taliban when they had the chance,” he said. A moment later, he doubled down. “As a country, as a people, they have some responsibility for the return of the Taliban.”

This is nothing less than an assertion of collective guilt, and horrifying, given the number of Afghans who have died fighting the Taliban.

In the face of this mess, the Biden administration has offered a bizarre deal in which 9/11 families will get half the money and the other half will go to the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, although no one is yet sure how. As the Biden administration sees it, it has fought to make sure Afghans get some of that money back, at potential political cost.

But both in the sanctions and in the seizures, you can see an almost Kafkaesque madness in the American position. They make all these efforts to mitigate the consequences of a sanctions regime that they implement. They are desperately negotiating deals to preserve the foreign reserves they are freezing. When I ask why they continue to impose these policies, the administration says that the Taliban has American prisoners, that it is a brutal regime that murders opponents and suppresses women, that it has ties to terrorists and that our sanctions give us a lot – necessary leverage.

But what is this leverage, exactly? “To destabilize the Taliban regime, the United States is militarizing the aid-dependent Afghan state it has built,” wrote Spencer Ackerman, a national security reporter, in his excellent newsletter, Forever Wars. “This economic weapon works by directly harming the Afghan people, with the hope that the suffering of the people will bring about the end of the Taliban regime.”

Whether this works – whether these sanctions destabilize the Taliban or persuade them to make the changes we want – is guesswork. Only the suffering of the Afghans is a reality. You don’t have to absolve the Taliban of their sins to wonder if this policy makes sense.

“The reality is that the only thing Washington has control over is its own actions,” Adam Weinstein, a researcher at the Quincy Institute and a former Marine deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, told me. not to make things worse for the Afghans. And it actively chooses instead to make them exponentially worse.

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