Severe economic sanctions against a Taliban government 2.0 could alienate Western influence in the region and create a fertile environment which could benefit ISIS and Al-Qaeda terrorist activities. The West should pursue other sustainable engagement options.

After two decades of US and UK NATO coalition unsuccessful occupation and regime change policy in Afghanistan, the Taliban is back in power in Kabul after toppling the western backed democratically elected Afghanistan government under President Ashraf Ghani.

The West is concerned, that despite the socio-economic progress made under the Afghanistan government, Taliban may likely prefer to continue with a traditional Islamic Sharia system of government. 

A sharia system where, women and girls are strictly restricted from some level of education and employment. Another major concern is security and stability. The west suspects that Taliban will not be able to cut ties with terrorist groups like Al-Qaida and Haqqani Network and these terrorist links could further provide a safe haven and support for Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups like ISIS in Korasan Province to gain roots in the region. 

As the last western troops pull down, the UK, US and EU states are contemplating imposing joint economic sanctions on any Taliban 2.0 government. It is not yet clear what kind of economic sanctions could be imposed on the Taliban government. Likely sanctions could include stopping humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and even arms embargo. 

Since US and her NATO allies are currently pulling out from Afghanistan to meet the agreed August 31st deadline, it is difficult to measure the level of future political leverage that US and her allies can jointly exert on a Taliban government from outside.

Especially after closing all diplomatic contact points and pulling out all troops and staff from Afghanistan meaning no direct Human Intelligence or access to credible and verifiable information. 

A western backed economic sanction could worsen the already disastrous humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. The country is suffering from severe draughts, acute poverty , starvation , rising cost of food and other basic life-saving items made worse by the global health Covid-19 pandemic.

 Afghanistan continues to be ravaged by conflicts from non-state groups, ISIS jihadist to local militias vying for control of ungoverned and ungovernable territory. Economic sanctions could create a fertile ground for ISIS, Haqqani Network and Al-Qaida affiliates to exploit increasing threats to peace and stability in Afghanistan, the region and globally. 


There are three obvious political and socio-economic potential impact of an economic sanction against a Taliban government; 

The West risk handing over geopolitical control of Afghanistan affairs to rival states, China , Russia, Pakistan, Iran , and potentially Turkey. These states are already warming up in prospect of a Taliban leadership and are already engaging for a soft landing through various diplomatic, political and economic indicators. These nations could act as a buffer against any economic sanctions against a Taliban government. 

In the unlikely scenario that China, Russia, Pakistan or Turkey take sides with a Western backed economic sanction and fail to rescue a Taliban government, the Taliban government could have no choice but to rely on local taxes from several lucrative trade routes and illegal drugs production and trade. 

The impact of an increase in opium production, could lead to a regional and global drug trade disaster. Impacting on the wellbeing and rights of young children , women and girls who are already vulnerable. 

Economic sanctions are intended to generate desperation and therefore chaos. National chaos could lead to social and political instability. An unstable Afghan economy is a fertile environment for jihadist groups like Al-Qaida, Haqqani network and ISIS-Khorasan Province and other armed militias to flourish.

These groups could creat a safe haven where other international terrorist groups could travel to Afghanistan to hide , recruit, train and plan attacks against western interests in and outside Afghanistan. 

Taliban of today may have illegally seized power from the previous US and NATO backed Afghanistan government but it remains a strategic country that shares long and short porous borders with Pakistan, China, Iran and other TANs states. 

Any economic sanction from the west targeted at Taliban government is not likely to be in the best interest of vulnerable Afghans or the West. The region and global peace and stability will be negatively affected. Economic sanctions could create a blind spot gap that China, Pakistan and Russia would gladly step in to secure. 

These concerned neighbouring nations have already expressed the political desire to work with any viable Taliban government with the express aim to safeguard peace and stability in Afghanistan and sideline the West from the region. In place of economic sanctions, the west could focus on establishing a common initiative to engage with the new Taliban government.

 This could be achieved in collaboration with opposition groups and regional states. Issues for discussions could be related inclusive governance, the role of women and girls and how Taliban could address links to all terrorist groups.


These reforms if implemented in coordination, could pave the way for a new Taliban 2.0 to gain the trust of the international community and Afghans. The western world may have decided it was time to desert Afghanistan after 20yrs, but millions of vulnerable Afghans should not be abandoned or punished with economic sanctions that will mostly benefit terrorist groups in the region. 

David Otto

David Otto is the Director for Stepped In – Step Out UK Ltd and a Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Expert. He is a Certified Anti -Terrorism Specialist (CAS), a Certified Master Anti -Terrorism Specialist (CMAS) and a programme trainer with the Anti -Terrorism Accreditation Board (ATAB). Twitter @ottotgs Email: David.otto@steppedin


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