The Silence — or Worse — of Human Rights Hawks on U.S. Sanctions Against Afghanistan

MONTHS AFTER THE U.S.-backed Afghan government fell to the Taliban, ordinary Afghans now face what could be their direst winter in decades. Thanks to the economic collapse that accompanied the U.S. military withdrawal, coupled with the imposition of sanctions and the cessation of much humanitarian aid, millions of Afghans must contend with the very real prospect of starvation. Some will die. Many will lose their lives to preventable deaths.

While limited humanitarian exceptions for trade have been carved out in recent weeks, the World Health Organization has already warned that up to 1 million Afghan children may die as a result of malnutrition over this winter if drastic steps are not taken. Children are already bearing the brunt of the humanitarian catastrophe, punctuated by horrifying stories of kids being sold to pay for food. And the country’s notoriously harsh winter is already taking a toll: Afghans are freezing to death as they flee the country with their families.

U.S. sanctions policy is directly to blame, pushing Afghans over the edge as they already struggle to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and the political upheaval created by the collapse of the central government. As Paul Spiegel, director of the Center for Humanitarian Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote this December, after returning from a trip to Afghanistan on behalf of the WHO, “I can clearly state that if the United States and other Western governments do not change their Afghanistan sanction policies, more Afghans will die from sanctions than at the hands of the Taliban.”