ISLAMABAD: The United States would show greater flexibility on financial sanctions imposed on Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover to allow delivery of humanitarian aid to the war-ravaged country, a senior State Department official said on Monday.

The official, who spoke to Islamabad-based journalists working with foreign media organisations, indicated that increased cash flow to Afghanistan would be allowed to put more liquidity in the country facing acute cash shortage. Similarly, more private remittances to Afghanistan would be allowed.

The statement came amid growing calls for the US to review its punishing sanctions regime on the Afghan Taliban.

US envoy, Iranian FM discuss Afghan situation with army chief

US sanctions and assets freeze following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan have exacerbated the economic conditions in the country that was heavily reliant on donor assistance. The humanitarian crisis there resulting from drought and decades of conflict has been aggravated by the economic crunch.

Foreign ministers of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member countries, who met in Islamabad on Sunday to discuss the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, had also called for easing of sanctions so that they “do not impede the provision of humanitarian aid or economic resources to preserve the institutions, schools and hospitals in Afghanistan and to allow multilateral development institutions, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and other humanitarian organisations to channel existing assistance and assets towards humanitarian assistance”.

The United Nations has flown about $152 million into Afghanistan in recent weeks. The money was then disbursed through an Afghan bank. This effort, facilitated by the US, is likely to be ramped up in weeks and months ahead.

Taliban reportedly cooperated with this cash transfer as they did not attempt to grab the money.

“We’ve worked quietly behind the scenes for cash to flow in larger and larger quantities inside the country. The Taliban are coordinating in this endeavor. They are not looking for cash and we are watching them very carefully,” the State Department official said.

Moreover, Washington would soon issue more licences to allow personal remittances to flow to Afghanistan. So far three such licences have been issued by US authorities giving exemptions to financial institutions involved in transfer of non-commercial and personal remittances to Afghanistan from its sanctions regime.

The official, however, emphasised that the US would want to have a monitoring mechanism in place to prevent the transferred money from being redirected to terrorist groups.

The official ruled out a return to the normal, suggesting it was very complicated.

He said immediate unfreezing of the $9.5 billion Afghan assets held by US authorities was not possible because it involved court cases. He said there was no “executive magic button” to get the money released.

He called for increased regional and international support for Afghanistan to deal with the humanitarian crisis and hinted that the US may not be able to contribute in a big way.

He said the US embassy would not reopen in near future in Kabul, but an engagement with technocrats in the government of Afghanistan would be started.

US special envoy

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West met Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa at the GHQ.

“During the meeting, matters of mutual interest, current security situation in Afgha­nistan and bilateral cooperation opportunities in the context were discussed,” the ISPR said.

Gen Bajwa emphasised global convergence to avert a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan. He said the world and the region could not afford an unstable Afghanistan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian also called on Gen Bajwa.

“Geo-strategic environment particularly situation in Afghanistan, defence and security cooperation were discussed during the meeting. Pak-Iran border security mechanism also came under discussion,” the ISPR said.

Mr Abdollahian was in Pakistan for attending the extraordinary session of the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) on the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Gen Bajwa said that defence collaboration between Pakistan and Iran had strengthened over the years.

The army chief described the CFM meeting as a historic development for addressing the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan and bringing the international community to a shared vision and joint strategy to find a solution to the emerging challenges in the region, which was vital for peace and stability.

Mr Abdollahian acknowledged Pakistan’s contributions towards regional peace and the important role that Pakistan is playing in this regard.

“Both sides agreed to stay engaged for enhanced bilateral cooperation while jointly working to assist in bringing positive developments in issues concerning the region, particularly efforts to mitigate challenges facing the people of Afghanistan,” the ISPR said.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2021

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