Efficacy of US sanctions -Express Tribune

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Premises are important as they are the assumptions that policymakers make to support a cause. Therefore, premises are always looked upon to justify fair or unfair outcomes. Making a right or wrong premise is the starting point of how an outcome may eventually be decided.

For the last 28 years, four broad-based premises of four American presidents — Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump — were wrong. Hence, US strategies that were based on those premises failed, resulting in huge consequences for the rest of the world.

Balkans and Rwanda suffered huge causalities as Bill Clinton hesitated and premised his foreign policy calculations on participating in no wars. He reflects that in his memoir in which he wrote, “the world will continue its forward march from isolation to interdependence to cooperation because there is no other choice”. A reluctant president whose premise of seeking a harmonious world pulled US economic and military strategists back when they should have pushed forward and employed the right foreign policy tools to seek just solutions to the problems that confronted the world.

George W Bush’s great premise was to first manufacture terrorism, and later push the entire world to unify against the global threat and encourage the world community to fight against this common challenge. His military strategists left the Arab world in great agony and distress because the President wrongly premised the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Barack Obama mistook public dissatisfaction with monarchical and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East during the Arab Spring as a sign that the Arab world would embrace democracy. Obama premised that they should not use military force to execute political change in the Middle East and Afghanistan. The strategic notion of clear, hold and build and the wrong transformation of the US strategy from executing counterterrorism operations to shifting to counter-insurgency was his big mistake. It maximised not only the presence of US troops in Afghanistan but also Afghan and American causalities.

Donald Trump’s premise of “America first” created the passions and paranoia which prompted US strategists to disengage and boycott their international obligations and engagements. He ended his one term as President only after he made all efforts to overturn the 2020 US elections. And as much as he created political and constitutional crisis in America, he also left the world more divided than united. Those who think that they have finally seen his back must know that he is still aspiring to stand out as the republican candidate for re-election in 2024.

Fast forward to President Joe Biden. The biggest challenge that he faced when he took over office was the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Today his right premise is equally as important as the premises of his predecessors. If he makes a wrong premise about Afghanistan, the region will suffer. As of now, a bill titled “Afghanistan Counterterrorism, Oversight, and Accountability Act” has been tabled by 22 lawmakers from the Republican Party at the US Senate. The idea is to impose sanctions on the Taliban who have formed an interim government, a new cabinet and declared their country an Islamic Emirate. The bill singles out Pakistan by name and seeks to make Pakistan accountable for its support to the Taliban in three periods of time. The first period is Pakistan’s overall support to the Taliban over the past two decades from 2001 to 2021; and the nature of support that is under question is intelligence, financial, logistics, medical, training, providing sanctuaries, as well as giving strategic direction to the Taliban movement. The second period is the Taliban’s offensive this year and the role that Pakistan may have played in facilitating and supporting that offensive. The third and the last period is the month of September 2021 and the role Pakistan may have played in helping the Taliban overcome the only resistance pocket left in Afghanistan — the Panjshir Valley.

The US’s Afghan policy has collapsed. It lost the Afghan war, and whatever geopolitical ends that it desired were never achieved. It seems that the current US president is working on the premise of using sanctions as economic leverage to regain the lost geopolitical ends in this region. Presidents before him made wrong premises and incorrect assumptions resulting in bad policy implementation. Will we witness the repeat of this phenomenon?

Of all the threats and challenges that have rocked Afghanistan, it is the imposition of the sanctions that will be most shocking. The problem with the US is similar to a doctor that wastes time in discussing the patient rather than treating the disease, which then leads to a misdiagnosis. Afghanistan needs economic support and assistance, and if the economic pressure through sanctions is designed to alter the Taliban’s behaviour then that is not likely to work. When the worst of military actions didn’t alter their behaviour what suggests to the US administration that economic sanctions would? Alternately, if sanctions are being perceived as a tool to propel a regime change then apparently there is no other strong enough political movement that can replace the Taliban.

So, what about Pakistan? The US tested and probed us for over four decades when we fought the Afghan war alongside them. Yet, it is unbelievable that they don’t understand our core interests as far as Afghanistan is concerned. If the US wants the sanctions to work and get countries to do what it wants then these sanctions have to be applied justly under the UN’s approval, and not become a tool of unilateral misjudgment, exclusivity and exceptionalism. Why shouldn’t India be sanctioned for its treatment of Kashmiris, or for that matter the Israelis be sanctioned for their treatment of Palestinians? Can’t these countries also be compelled through sanctions to change their behaviour? There is nothing wrong with the concept of economic sanctions. What is wrong is its unfair and unjust implementation.

Sanctioning Afghanistan or Pakistan to recover lost geopolitical ends is absolutely a wrong premise. Formulating a US policy on this premise will create more problems than it will solve. Regional powers under the concept of economic regionalism will surely step in to balance and support the economies of these countries. After the US departure from Afghanistan, there is too much at stake for China and Russia. Undermining the efficacy of US-imposed sanctions might just be a suitable strategic goal of these determinist powers who are now the major actors of this new cold war that has resurfaced.