Taliban urge US Congress to unblock Afghan assets, lift sanctions

Published November 18, 2021
In this file photo, Afghanistan's acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi addresses a press conference in Kabul. — AP/File
In this file photo, Afghanistan's acting foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi addresses a press conference in Kabul. — AP/File

WASHINGTON: Afghan­istan’s Taliban rulers sent an open letter to the US Congress on Wednesday, urging American lawmakers to help unfreeze their country’s assets seized after their August takeover of Kabul.

In the letter, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi warned of a mass refugee exodus from Afghanistan unless the United States unblocks the frozen assets and ends other financial sanctions against the country.

Mr Muttaqi wrote that the Taliban were making this request to ensure that “doors for future relations are opened, assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank are unfrozen and sanctions on our banks are lifted.”

The Biden administration froze more than $9 billion of assets belonging to the Afghan central bank soon after the Taliban captured Kabul on Aug 15 and imposed other economic sanctions on the new regime as well. America’s Western allies also imposed similar sanctions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund also have suspended about $1.2 billion in aid that they were supposed to rele­ase for Afghanistan this year.

The sanctions are part of a US-led effort to persuade the militants to include non-Taliban elements in the government and protect the achievements of the last twenty years, including education for women and religious freedom for minorities.

Washington does not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government in Afghanistan and last week the Biden administration announced that Qatar would serve as its diplomatic representative in the country.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo recently told a US Senate committee he saw no situation where Washington would allow the Taliban to access the Afghan central bank reserves. “It’s essential that we maintain our sanctions against the Taliban but at the same time find ways for legitimate humanitarian assistance to get to the Afghan people,” he argued.

The Taliban letter, however, reminded US lawmakers that financial insecurity was the biggest challenge Afghanistan faced today and “the roots of this concern lead back to the freezing of assets of our people by the American government”.

Mr Muttaqi wrote that the sanctions had “not only played havoc” with trade and business but also with humanitarian aid to millions of desperate Afghans.

“We are concerned that if the current situation prevails, the Afghan government and people will face problems and will become a cause for mass migration in the region and world,” he wrote.

“We hope that the members of the American Congress will think thoroughly in this regard and the American officials will view from [the] prism of justice the problems of our people arising from sanctions and unjust partisan treatment.” He also advised the lawmakers “not to approach this humanitarian issue in a superficial manner.”

Last week, the UN World Food Program warned that years of conflict, and a prolonged drought, threaten more than half of the country’s estimated 40 million people with starvation this winter.

The letter also assured the US Congress that Kabul’s Taliban rulers intend to do things differently this time. “Practical steps have been taken towards good governance, security and transparency,” Mr Muttaqi wrote.

“No threat is posed to the region or world from Afghanistan and a pathway has been paved for positive cooperation.”

Mr Muttaqi said Afghans “understand the concerns of the international community,” but that it was necessary for all sides to take positive steps to build trust. Not listing the sanctions would further damage the US reputation in Afghanistan “and this will serve as the worst memory ingrained in Afghans at the hands of America,” he wrote.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2021

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