On Jul. 13 2023, United States (U.S.) Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA) and Eli Crane (R-AZ) introduced the “Prohibition on Funding for and Removal of Sanctions Against the Taliban” amendment (No. 56) to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This amendment would require an act of Congress in order to mitigate or waive any U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and Taliban-linked entities that were imposed on or prior to Aug. 18, 2021. The Charity & Security Network (C&SN) opposes the amendment.

At 11:14pm on Jul. 13 2023, the amendment passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in a 247 – 185 vote. The NDAA package, including this amendment, will now advance to the Senate for a vote. Prior to the House vote, C&SN joined fellow civil society organizations (CSOs) calling for Congress not to adopt this amendment, which would accentuate and solidify sanctions placed on the Taliban –  measures that have been ineffective in achieving U.S. foreign policy goals, caused incalculable harm on innocent Afghan civilians, and have compounded Afghanistan’s severe economic and humanitarian crises.

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in Aug. 2021, the Taliban returned to power and remain the de facto government. As a result, sanctions on the Taliban have severe impacts on civilians in need of government services and have exacerbated the myriad of crises the country faces. Likewise, due in no small part to the U.S. freezing $7.1 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign funds immediately after the Taliban takeover, the country faces “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”extreme famine risk, and “continues to face the highest prevalence of insufficient food consumption globally”.

Originally, sanctions were placed on the Taliban under then-President Bush’s invocation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA). The Taliban were designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs) under the Sept. 2001 Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, as amended and the Jul. 2002 E.O. 13268. E.O. 13224 “claimed the power to impose broad sanctions on any person or organization designated a “specially designated global terrorist” (“SDGT”)”, and the Taliban has remained an SDGT ever since. SDGT designations can be authorized by either the Department of Treasury or the Department of State. 

Regardless of which government agency issues the SDGT designation, requiring Congressional approval to waive or modify U.S. sanctions imposed on the Taliban enables these sanctions to exist into perpetuity, without first assessing their efficacy, relevance to the current context, and consequences on civilian populations and civil society. It prevents much-needed and long overdue safeguards like sunset provisions, conducting routine impact assessments on whether or not sanctions are successfully meeting policy objectives, and setting precedent to end or revamp sanctions that are not meeting their intended objectives and targets. While sanctions that carry on for decades result in decimation of countries’ economies and create deadly human consequences for populations, there is little evidence to suggest further entrenching U.S. sanctions on the Taliban will do anything except hurt Afghan civilians. 

In addition to inflaming the negative impacts of sanctions on civil society and civilians – in particular women and children – this amendment would further anchor U.S. foreign policy under a sanctions-first framework, which is well-documented to be counterproductive in achieving U.S. foreign policy interests

The amendment proposed by Reps. Perry and Crane risks undermining recent breakthroughs in protecting essential civil society work in fragile contexts from the negative impacts of sanctions, such as in Afghanistan. In December 2022, Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued new and amended baseline general licenses that widely permit humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding activities in many such contexts – a landmark move that underscored Treasury’s willingness to listen to and collaborate with CSOs. If passed in the Senate NDAA, this amendment compromises the progress Treasury has made in advancing these often life-saving activities in U.S.-sanctioned contexts and halts the momentum of Treasury’s 2021 Sanctions Review and subsequent sanctions modernization process. Further, it would put Congress at odds with the Administration, and risks unraveling trust between the government, the U.S. civil society sector, and the American people.

C&SN urges the Senate to reject this amendment. Further isolation of Afghanistan from the international community will continue to impede the conducive operating environment CSOs need to implement life-saving programs and activities in the country, and will undoubtedly continue to harm the Afghan people.