A hunger crisis now faces the people of Afghanistan, and the United States holds the key to a significant part of resource flow into the country. As the Taliban implement their authoritarian control of the country, human rights abuses have become more widespread and a hunger crisis risks putting millions into famine condition. The United States may be able to leverage access to much need food and medical supplies to ensure that the Taliban do not revert to their horrific rule of the 1990’s.
The US Withdraw and Taliban Control
The Obama administration had undertaken the goal of strengthening the Afghan military self-sufficiency with the hopes of an eventually wind down of US presence in the country. As President Biden announced a complete withdraw from the country by September 11, the apparatus we had been holding together began to crumble as the Taliban swept like locust over the failing provinces. The Afghan soldier the US has invested billions to train and equipped attempted to hold out despite being starved and demoralized. Despite their efforts, the Taliban had taken control of every province and eventually provided security for the US to see out our final troops and allies.
Since the United States withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban has filled the power vacuum as the previous government fled (before the US had even withdrawn completely). With their reign has come a strict implementation of Sharia Law under which martial law dictates justice and women’s rights have all but evaporated. Women’s rights were non-existent during the Taliban’s draconian rule of the 1990’s and many now expect that they will return to this oppressive style. Despite their promises, few groups see their commitment to women’s right as anything but an international facade to get access to much needed medical and subsistence supplies. Horrific images have been circulated on social media of the Taliban hanging supposed criminals and attacking ethnic minorities that were US sympathizers.
Though the United States is no longer present in the country, there are still options available for influencing the Taliban into more cooperation. The Taliban have shown that they are attempting to receive international legitimacy as the ruling government of Afghanistan. Despite their attempts, many have commented that it will be a long and arduous road for them to travel as they must first deal with maintaining order and cede some of their strict conservative implementations of Sharia Law. As the Taliban are in a desperate situation with millions faced with famine, it is likely they will be more compliant to international pressures.
Possible Outcomes and Courses of Action
The US has already given 474$ Million USD in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan through independent humanitarian groups in 2021 alone. These supplies include food and medical necessities that would help decrease the threat of food insecurity for the coming winter. UNHCR estimates state that nearly 375$ million USD will be required to address the hunger crisis. The United States also froze a substantial funds, upwards of 9$ billion USD, from the Afghan government once it was deposed. This money provides even more leverage to the US as the Taliban needs to buy food from the international market. The US has the option to promise to return these funds to the Taliban in the form of supplies, thus mitigating any cost to the US.
The United States can hold the Taliban accountable to the promises they make against human rights abuses. The control that the US holds over a significant vein of supplies into the state puts it in a powerful position to bargain and hold the noose around their government. The US has the ability to work multilaterally through institutions like the United Nations for sending supplies to avoid sending any more US personnel to Afghanistan. Increasing multilateralism may also create some momentum from the international community to participate in donating and providing funds. Since the UN World food program has operations within Afghanistan already, it is unlikely that they will object to donations from the US for the impending hunger crisis. Despite the surety of this plan, there are some possibilities to consider. It is not a guarantee that the Taliban will respond to blocking the flow of necessities. The Taliban are hardy and have survived 20 years of war and may not be easily influenced by the lack of supplies despite their necessity. In order to use supplies as a bargaining chip, it would require sending the supplies through in a steady stream so that it can be controlled. This may mean that supplies might not reach people in need fast enough. Despite these risks, it is likely that the Taliban are starting to feel the weight of international pressure to do more to change previously extreme conservative stances and cede small victories for human rights in order to maintain control.