US Senator introduces Bill to sanction Taliban, supporters

Sept 29, 2021: A group of US senators – including a former presidential candidate – has introduced a bill in the US Senate aimed at imposing sanctions on the Afghan Taliban, which could spread to Pakistan.

The bill, entitled ‘Afghanistan Anti-Terrorism, Surveillance and Accountability Act’, was angrily reprimanded by a senior member of the Pakistani cabinet.

Twenty-two Republican lawmakers introduced the bill Monday, calling for “the imposition of sanctions on the Taliban and those supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan and other purposes.”

Efforts have also been made to review and suspend the proposed legislation and to impose sanctions on any foreign government that the US believes is supporting the Taliban or doing.

It specifically mentions Pakistan in the section that calls for a report on “Taliban aid agencies.”

The bill was introduced by Senator Jim Risch, the representative for the state of Idaho and a ranking member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has previously co-sponsored acts imposing sanctions on Turkey and making it a federal crime for Americans to encourage or participate in boycotts against Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In all, the bill was co-sponsored by 21 others, including Senator Mitt Romney, who ran against former president Barack Obama during his re-election bid, and Marco Rubio, who lost out in the primaries for the 2016 US presidential election.

Although the bill’s sponsors say its main goal is to address “significant issues related to the Biden administration’s hasty and catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan,” a key part is aimed at imposing punitive measures against the Taliban.

According to official press releases published on websites of some of the bill’s sponsors, the bill seeks to “establish a State Department task force to focus on the evacuation of American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) still stuck in Afghanistan; impose oversight mechanisms on the processing of SIVs and refugees; require strategies for counterterrorism and for the disposition of Taliban-captured US equipment; sanction the Taliban and others in Afghanistan for terrorism, drug-trafficking, and human rights abuses; authorise sanctions on those providing support to the Taliban, including foreign governments supporting the Taliban; call for a comprehensive review of foreign assistance to entities that support the Taliban; [and] place restrictions on non-humanitarian foreign assistance to Afghanistan.”

With regard to foreign governments and non-state groups, the bill itself states that “the Secretary of State, in consultation with the appropriate congressional committees, shall provide to the Government of any country or any foreigner of the United States provided by him.

A comprehensive review of aid, any organization that provides any kind of material support to the Taliban. In a separate section, it added that “in consultation with the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence, we will submit a report to the appropriate congressional committees on the agencies providing support to the Taliban.”

Regarding Pakistan, the bill clarifies that “the first report will include – location, financial assistance, intelligence support, logistics and medical support, training, leasing, and tactical, operational, or strategic direction (2) Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Assessing the support of state and non-state actors, including the government of Pakistan, for the Taliban’s 2021 attack to overthrow the Taliban government.

Criticizing the bill on Twitter, Pakistan’s human rights minister, Shireen Mazari said: “So again Pakistan will be made to pay heavy price for being an ally of US in its “War on Terror” as a bill is introduced in US Senate in aftermath of the US’s chaotic Afghan withdrawal followed by collapse of ANA and Ashraf Ghani’s flight to UAE.”

She added, “Twenty years of presence by economically and militarily powerful US & NATO left behind chaos with no stable governance structures. Pakistan now being scapegoated for this failure. This was never our war; we suffered 80,000 casualties, a decimated economy, over 450 drone attacks by our US ‘ally’ and disastrous fallout of these attacks on our tribal people and area,”

Mazari further lashed out at the US saying it should focus on self reflection instead of focusing on its usual scapegoat, Pakistan. She wrote, “US Senate should do serious introspection: Where did $2 trillion disappear? Why did the heavily-invested-in ANA simply dissolve? Who asked Pakistan to free Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan leadership? Who signed Doha agreement with TTA and hosted them in DC?” the minister urged. “Enough is enough. It is time for those powers who were present in Afghanistan to look to their own failures instead of targeting Pakistan which paid a heavy price in lives lost, social and economic costs, refugees – all for being an ally and suffering constant abuse, in a war that wasn’t ours.”

The bill was a clear attempt to put both Pakistan and the Taliban under pressure, and yet another sign that the US relationship with Pakistan was purely transactional.

According to the State Department, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Pakistan next month. Sherman will be one of the first high-ranking officials under President Biden since CIA Director Bill Burns to visit Pakistan, where she will meet with senior officials October 7-8.

Senator James Risch, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said that there have “already been lengthy discussions between the administration and the Congressional people as to what our role in Afghanistan and Pakistan is going to be going forward.”

His comments came after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced earlier this month that the US is going to be looking at its ties with Pakistan in the coming weeks to formulate the role it wants Islamabad to play in the future of Afghanistan.

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