Demonstrators in Afghanistan’s capital on Saturday condemned US President Joe Biden’s order freeing up $3.5 billion in Afghan assets held in the US for families of America’s 9/11 victims — saying the money belongs to Afghans.
Protesters who gathered outside Kabul’s grand Eid Gah mosque asked America for financial compensation for the tens of thousands of Afghans killed during the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s central bank, known as Da Afghanistan Bank or DAB, also opposed the move, calling it "an injustice to the people of Afghanistan" and demanding that the decision be withdrawn.
"DAB considers the latest decision of [the] USA on blocking FX (foreign exchange) reserves and allocating them to irrelevant purposes [an] injustice to the people of Afghanistan and will never accept if the FX reserves of Afghanistan [are] paid [in] the name of compensation or humanitarian assistance to others, and wants the reversal of the decision and release of all FX reserves of Afghanistan," it said in a press release.
The bank said the "real owners" of the said assets were the people of Afghanistan.
"These reserves were not and [are] not the property of governments, parties and groups and [are] never used as per their demand and decisions," it added.
With regards to the management of the assets, the bank highlighted: "Considering the specified objectives, the FX reserves of Afghanistan is managed based on the international practices. [The] condition of these reserves are regularly and precisely monitored by DAB. A certain portion of these reserves [is] invested in the USA as per the accepted rules to be secure and be available to DAB for achieving the determined objectives."
'What about our Afghan people?'
Biden’s order, signed on Friday, allocates another $3.5bn in Afghan assets for humanitarian aid to a trust fund to be managed by the UN to provide aid to Afghans. The country’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into Afghanistan with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban.
At the protest in Kabul, misspelled placards in English accused the US of being cruel and of stealing the money of Afghans.
“What about our Afghan people who gave many sacrifices and thousands of losses of lives?” asked the demonstration’s organiser, Abdul Rahman, a civil society activist.
Rahman said he planned to organise more demonstrations across the capital to protest Biden’s order. “This money belongs to the people of Afghanistan, not to the United States. This is the right of Afghans,” he said.
Torek Farhadi, a financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, questioned the UN managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. He said those funds are not meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment.”
He also questioned the legality of Biden’s order.
“These reserves belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban ... Biden’s decision is one-sided and does not match with international law,” said Farhadi. “No other country on earth makes such confiscation decisions about another country’s reserves.”
Afghanistan has about $9bn in assets overseas, including the $7bn in the United States. The rest is mostly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.
Condemnation on Twitter
Biden’s Friday order generated a social media storm with Twitter saying #USAstolemoneyfromafghan was trending among Afghans. Tweets repeatedly pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, not Afghans.
Taliban political spokesperson Mohammad Naeem accused the Biden administration in a tweet late on Friday of showing “the lowest level of humanity ... of a country and a nation.”
Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer at the American University in Afghanistan and a social activist, tweeted: “Let’s remind the world that #AfghansDidntCommit911 and that #BidenStealingAfgMoney!”
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the US-based Wilson Centre, called Biden’s order to divert $3.5 billion away from Afghanistan “heartless.”
“It’s great that $3.5bn in new humanitarian aid for Afghanistan has been freed up. But to take another $3.5bn that belongs to the Afghan people, and divert it elsewhere — that is misguided and quite frankly heartless,” he tweeted.
Kugelman also said the opposition to Biden’s order crossed Afghanistan’s wide political divide.
“I can’t remember the last time so many people of such vastly different worldviews were so united over a US policy decision on Afghanistan,” he tweeted.
Neighbouring Pakistan, which has been urging the world not to abandon Afghanistan, unfreeze its assets, and ensure the delivery of aid and assistance to the war-ravaged country that faces a humanitarian crisis, also issued a statement backing Afghanistan's call to receive all the funds.
"Over the past several months, Pakistan has been consistently emphasising the need for the international community to quickly act to address the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan and to help revive the Afghan economy, as the two are inextricably linked. Finding ways to unfreeze Afghan foreign reserves urgently would help address the humanitarian and economic needs of the Afghan people," the Foreign Office said in a statement.
It added that "Pakistan’s principled position on the frozen Afghan foreign bank reserves remains that these are owned by the Afghan nation and these should be released. The utilisation of Afghan funds should be the sovereign decision of Afghanistan."
"The Afghan people are facing grave economic and humanitarian challenges and the international community must continue to play its important and constructive role in alleviating their sufferings. Time is of the essence," the FO concluded.