Biden leads hostage negotiation with Taliban

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In late August, CIA director William Burns met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, presumably to negotiate the evacuation of US citizens and Afghan allies. For all intents and purposes, the Biden administration is conducting a hostage negotiation with a terrorist organization. The question for policymakers: What does US President Joe Biden offer to pay now that the last remaining US forces have withdrawn?

Thousands of U.S. and Western citizens, along with their Afghan allies, remain trapped in Taliban-controlled territory following Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from bases and airfields that could have been used to protect them. and evacuate them. These stranded individuals depend entirely on the cooperation of the Taliban to enter and exit Kabul and other airports.

The prospect of thousands of American and allied hostages remaining in Afghanistan without American military assistance leaves the United States and its democratic counterparts vulnerable to extortion. International recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan will be the Taliban’s critical first step towards securing additional concessions and resources, such as direct economic aid. Official recognition, in turn, would likely help the Taliban meet another demand: access to hard currency, including Afghan government assets that have been stranded by the United States and others.

In late August, CIA director William Burns met with Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul, presumably to negotiate the evacuation of US citizens and Afghan allies. For all intents and purposes, the Biden administration is conducting a hostage negotiation with a terrorist organization. The question for policymakers: What does US President Joe Biden offer to pay now that the last remaining US forces have withdrawn?

Thousands of U.S. and Western citizens, along with their Afghan allies, remain trapped in Taliban-controlled territory following Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from bases and airfields that could have been used to protect them. and evacuate them. These stranded individuals depend entirely on the cooperation of the Taliban to enter and exit Kabul and other airports.

The prospect of thousands of American and allied hostages remaining in Afghanistan without American military assistance leaves the United States and its democratic counterparts vulnerable to extortion. International recognition as the legitimate government of Afghanistan will be the Taliban’s critical first step towards securing additional concessions and resources, such as direct economic aid. Official recognition, in turn, would likely help the Taliban meet another demand: access to hard currency, including Afghan government assets that have been stranded by the United States and others.

Afghanistan’s reserve assets, estimated at around $ 9 billion, are mostly parked in the United States. The Taliban face two obstacles in getting their hands on these funds. First, the United States does not recognize the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan as the legitimate government of the country and, therefore, the owner of these assets. Second, the Taliban are named as a terrorist entity by the US Treasury Department, as are many of the group’s leaders. For now, most of Afghanistan’s reserves remain frozen at the US Federal Reserve.

Another potential source of hard currency for the Taliban is funds held and distributed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As part of the IMF’s response to the global economic crisis triggered by COVID-19, Afghanistan was expected to receive $ 455 million in aid this month. IMF officials suspended this transfer and also blocked access to other IMF resources, such as Special Drawing Rights. Clearly, the Taliban are keen to get their hands on these funds.

The Taliban probably have other diplomatic and economic demands. The group hopes to be officially recognized as Afghanistan’s representative in the United Nations General Assembly, a key source of legitimacy denied to them when they ruled Afghanistan prior to 2001. The Taliban will also call for the lifting of sanctions on the United Nations and the United States that could hamper trade relations with the rest of the world.

China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Qatar already appear willing to help the Taliban avoid international pariah status. For his part, Biden did not accept the recognition or release of funds, perhaps naively believing that such inducements would induce good behavior on the part of the Taliban. In the president’s mind, the Taliban are grappling with what he called an “existential crisis” over whether or not they want to be internationally isolated. The State Department told reporters the administration would consider a carrot and stick approach.

Biden might be tempted to pay for the Taliban racketeering if only to prevent Afghanistan from making headlines ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. But appeasing an al-Qaeda-allied terrorist organization would be a mistake catastrophic that would endanger the national security of the United States.

The Taliban maintained close ties with al-Qaeda before and after the September 11 attacks. For example, one of the Taliban’s deputy emirs, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is a long-time al Qaeda ally and the leader of the Haqqani network, the most sophisticated and experienced faction of the Taliban. Since taking power, the Taliban have already freed thousands of Al Qaeda and ISIS prisoners and appointed former al Qaeda-linked commanders and Guantánamo Bay detainees to key positions of the government. The US military is now warning that Al Qaeda’s operational capabilities are developing rapidly. Given the relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda, a de facto exchange of money for hostages could end up funding future terrorist attacks against Americans.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are already demanding that the Biden administration reveal all the details of its negotiations with the Taliban since the fall of Kabul. This would provide the transparency and accountability that is essential to any quid pro quo offered to the Taliban.

But Congress should not stop there. It should also ban the release of funds to the Taliban through the Federal Reserve, the IMF or other international organizations over which Washington has leverage. In addition, Congress is expected to pass legislation prohibiting recognition of a Taliban-led government, including the United Nations, and significantly expanding US financial sanctions to target the central bank and economic sectors of the Taliban government.

The administration, for its part, must not capitulate to the demands of the Taliban; it should be clear that any attempt to obstruct the continued departure of US citizens, other Westerners or Afghan allies will be fought by force.

The Trump administration’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban and undermine the Afghan government was wrong. Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan was even worse, and his withdrawal process was a disaster. Doubling down by giving in to Taliban extortion will not stop the group from helping al-Qaeda launch terrorist attacks against the United States. This will ensure that they will.

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