More than two years after the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the Afghan people’s situation remains dire. The Taliban’s rule continues to be highly repressive and falls particularly hard on women. The country is also facing a humanitarian crisis, with over half its people living below the poverty line and some 15 million lacking adequate access to food. The United States and other members of the international community can lessen Afghans’ suffering by lifting various economic penalties on Afghanistan.
The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, after defeating the previous US-backed government. Their regime is not currently recognized by any other government.
The Taliban’s rule has been marked by draconian restrictions on women, which have drawn criticism from elsewhere in the Muslim world. These restrictions include barring women from secondary and university education and from various occupations, including public office. Women must now follow a dress code and cannot enter public areas such as gyms and parks. Women can be examined only by female healthcare professionals, a rule complicated by the Taliban prohibiting women from taking medical exams. The closure of beauty parlors has put an estimated 60,000 women out of work.
The Taliban has also closed safe houses for women facing domestic violence and ended laws and policies meant to eliminate violence and harassment of women. Episodes of violence against women have been reported, including an incident where Taliban agents beat a woman to get her to leave a public park.
Afghanistan’s economy is struggling: after the Taliban takeover, the country became subject to international sanctions, foreign aid dropped dramatically, and the United States froze billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s assets to keep it out of the Taliban’s hands. The sanctions, as currently followed, make financial transactions difficult for Afghans. The Norwegian Refugee Council, an NGO, reported in April that “Afghan businesses highlighted that payment instructions for any international bank transaction that mention Afghanistan get blocked, even for transactions for food shipments via the United Nations.” One European Bank reportedly needed 40 to 50 staff members to facilitate one financial transaction to Afghanistan.
According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Afghanistan lost 700,000 jobs and per capita income fell 14–28 percent between 2021 and 2022. Although employment opportunities improved in 2023, the UNDP estimates that by the end of 2022, 34 million Afghans were living in poverty — a number that is 15 million more than in 2020 and accounts for most of the population. Samira Sayed-Rahman of the International Rescue Committee NGO observes, “We have seen more and more middle class [people] falling into poverty, having to rely on humanitarian assistance.” Farming, which accounts for a third of Afghanistan’s economy, is suffering from recurring drought (the country has little functioning irrigation).
The United Nations reports that some 28 million Afghans need food, shelter, water, or other humanitarian assistance in 2023, roughly 10 million more people than needed such assistance before the Taliban takeover. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) identifies 15.3 million Afghans as acutely food insecure and more than 3 million Afghan children as acutely malnourished. WFP provides aid to millions of children, including nursing mothers and infants, but it is struggling because of inadequate funding for its efforts.
Afghans are suffering today both because of the Taliban’s oppressive rule and the economic burdens placed on their country by the international community. Changing the Taliban’s policies is a very challenging prospect, but removing the economic burdens from Afghanistan is within the power of the United States and other nations.
The United States should end sanctions on Afghanistan (apart from prohibitions on selling weapons to the Taliban) and release Afghanistan’s frozen funds to allow the country to revive its economy. The United States also should dramatically increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, whether through the WFP or other agencies. Last, the United States should encourage and help other nations and international institutions to follow a similar approach in regards to Afghanistan.
Please consider contacting the Biden administration by phone, at 202-456-1111, or email; and contacting your representatives in the House and Senate to urge an end to the Afghanistan sanctions and the unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets.