- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2021

More than 40 members of the far-left Congressional Progressive Caucus demanded Monday that President Biden ease economic sanctions and restrictions imposed on the Taliban.

In a letter to the White House and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the lawmakers argued that with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan the sanctions are adversely impacting the country’s population.

“We deplore the new Taliban government’s grave human rights abuses, crackdowns on civil society and repression of women and LGBTQ people,” they wrote. “However, pragmatic U.S. engagement with the de facto authorities is nevertheless key to averting unprecedented harm to tens of millions of women, children and innocent civilians.”

The lawmakers added that “punitive economic policies will not weaken Taliban leaders,” but rather fall heavily “on innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty.”

“Ongoing engagement with the Taliban to coordinate access to urgently needed hard currency can provide the necessary leverage to secure human rights improvements,” they wrote.

The letter was led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the Washington Democrat who chairs the CPC. Overall, 46 members of the caucus signed on arguing for Mr. Biden to take a softer line with the Taliban.

In August, Afghanistan‘s democratically elected government fell to the Taliban, an Islamist political and military group that harbored al Qaeda as it plotted the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The collapse came shortly after Mr. Biden withdrew U.S. troops, despite warnings from both Republicans and the intelligence community that the pro-American Afghan government was on the brink of collapse.

Senior administration officials both have denied ever receiving such warnings and now claim the Taliban‘s ascendance was inevitable.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently. “We made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan.”

Despite such claims, Mr. Biden opted to follow the lead of international organizations and impose economic restrictions on the Taliban following their capture of Afghanistan. The maneuver not only froze billions of dollars of Afghan money held in American banks, but also curtailed the Taliban’s access to international aid.

Progressives say such actions have contributed to the suffering of the Afghan people. They point to United Nations estimates showing that Afghanistan will face widespread famine this winter, with 97% of its residents expected to be living in poverty.

“It is also important to clarify that the overwhelming majority of reserves returned to the central bank of Afghanistan will be used primarily to purchase imports by Afghanistan’s private sector, which comprises the dominant share of Afghanistan’s economy,” the lawmakers wrote.

Mr. Biden’s national security team says they are reviewing the sanctions. They also note that the administration has pushed more than $200 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan since the Taliban took control.

Republicans say that while the humanitarian crisis brewing in Afghanistan is tragic, it was important for the U.S. to make clear that the Taliban is not a legitimate government.

“Despite its depraved behavior, you won’t hear anyone in our government call the Taliban what it is: a terrorist organization,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican. “At least 14 of the Taliban’s 33 so-called cabinet ministers are on United Nations sanctions lists for terrorism. No fewer than five were once held with terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.”

• Haris Alic can be reached at halic@washingtontimes.com.

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