By Zack Taylor
As the final C-17 lifted from Hamid Karzai International Airport at 11:59 PM on 30 August 2021, the United States’ military involvement in Afghanistan came to a close. In the final month of the US withdrawal, the Taliban launched a lightning offensive against the government of Afghanistan, culminating in Afghan President Ghani fleeing the country and the Taliban seizing Kabul. As NATO military forces scrambled to evacuate as many people as possible before the 31 August deadline, western governments struggled with how to respond to the new reality in Afghanistan – a Taliban government. Without a military footprint on the ground in Afghanistan nor any diplomatic staff in country, what can the United States and other western countries do to hold the Taliban accountable for their actions in their new role as the de facto government of Afghanistan?
As of this writing, no countries have yet to formally recognize the new Taliban government in Kabul. The Taliban itself is referring to its recently announced government as an “interim government” while additional governing matters are resolved. Notably, the new government is composed entirely of hardline Taliban loyalists, with no women nor any members of the previous government. The Taliban are incredibly keen on securing international recognition of their new government and the associated economic aid and humanitarian packages that would likely accompany such a status. Aside from a handful of neighboring countries, the Chinese and the Russians were the only global powers to maintain embassies in Kabul through the Taliban takeover.
Over the course of the NATO military presence in Afghanistan, the Taliban have become increasingly adept at using social media to rebrand themselves as a more modern version of the brutal movement of the 1990s. Since their return to power, the Taliban have been promulgating a narrative espousing support for the education of women, the right for women to work, opposition to terrorism, and general amnesty for former government security forces and officials – all important to western governments. The West continues to wield some measure of soft power over the Taliban through its withholding of recognition and aid packages as a means to spur the Taliban to uphold their commitments. However, it remains to be seen how effective such withholding will be after Russia, China, and other regional states begin recognizing and displacing western aid with their own support packages.
Another option that the United States and its western allies may pursue to pressure the Taliban to uphold its human rights and terrorism commitments is the application of sanctions. As it stands, Afghanistan is an incredibly impoverished nation highly dependent on international aid to support its fledgling economy. Should the West seek to expressly restrict such accesses, the Taliban will very likely be forced to resort to less sophisticated means of supporting its financial system like an increasing reliance on narcotics trafficking or the traditional hawala system – an informal method of transferring money without any money physically moving from one place to another. Western sanctions would also likely drive the Taliban further into the waiting arms of the Chinese and the Russians, further reducing any influence the West retains over the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Lastly, sanctions against Afghanistan, given its relatively weak financial system, may ultimately be ineffective and merely further exacerbate the brewing humanitarian crises as the Taliban passes on the negative effects to the civilian population. Following the withdrawal of NATO military forces, the United States and its allies are in a weak position to continue influencing the Taliban and may instead find themselves relying on Russian and Chinese interests aligning with the West on Afghanistan – a tough proposition to be sure.
 Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali, Last US Troops depart Afghanistan after massive airlift ending America’s longest war, Reuters (Aug. 30, 2021), https://www.reuters.com/world/last-us-forces-leave-afghanistan-after-nearly-20-years-2021-08-30/ (last visited Sept. 17, 2021).
 Deirdre Shesgreen, US envoy to Afghanistan: Ghani’s decision to flee torpedoed deal to keep Taliban out of Kabul, USA Today (Sept. 15, 2021), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/09/15/afghanistan-ashraf-ghani-exit-torpedoed-deal-taliban/8353593002/ (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 Matthieu Aikins & Jim Huylebroek, Taliban Appoint Stalwarts to Top Government Posts, N.Y. Times (Sept. 7, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/07/world/asia/taliban-women-protest-kabul-afghanistan.html?searchResultPosition=1 (last visited Sept. 17, 2021).
 Yaroslav Trofimov, As Taliban Seek International Acceptance, Countries Seek to Engage—but Stop Short of Recognition, Wall St. J. (Sept. 13, 2021), https://www.wsj.com/articles/as-taliban-seek-international-acceptance-countries-seek-to-engagebut-stop-short-of-recognition-11631548841 (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 Dong Xing & Erin Handley, As countries evacuate Kabul, China, Russia and Pakistan remain in Afghanistan — for now, ABC News, (Aug. 19, 2021), https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-20/china-russia-pakistan-embassies-stay-put-in-afghanistan-taliban/100387270 (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 See Craig Timberg & Cristiano Lima, Today’s Taliban uses sophisticated social media practices that rarely violate the rules, Wash. Post (Aug. 18, 2021), https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/08/18/taliban-social-media-success/ (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 See The Taliban Claim They’ll Respect Women’s Rights — With Their Reading of Islamic Law, NPR (Aug. 17, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/08/17/1028391403/afghanistan-women-taliban-government (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 See Alan Rappeport, U.S. Wrestles with Taliban Sanctions as Afghan Crisis Looms, N.Y. Times (Sept. 3, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/03/us/politics/treasury-taliban-sanctions-afghanistan.html (last accessed Sept. 17, 2021).
 See Joel Gehrke, ‘Abandon pressures’: China threatens Blinken’s hope for UN unity on Taliban sanctions, Wash. Exam’r (Sep. 15, 2021), https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/defense-national-security/china-threatens-taliban-sanctions (last visited Sept. 21, 2021).
 Adam Shaw, Taliban reliant on illegal drug trafficking for financing as production booms, UN says, Fox News (Aug. 24, 2021), https://www.foxnews.com/politics/taliban-illegal-drug-trafficking-financing-production-booms-un (last visited Sept. 25, 2021).
 See Mohammed El-Qorchi, The Hawala System, https://gdrc.org/icm/hawala.html (last visited Sept. 17, 2021).
 Gehrke supra note 10.
 Rappeport, supra note 9.