WITH Afghanistan facing a humanitarian catastrophe and economic collapse, the American decision to not release $3.5bn of Afghan funds to the Taliban-controlled central bank can only be described as heartless. While it is unknown how the decision will impact the financial status of the hard-line group that rules Afghanistan, it will certainly spell more doom for ordinary Afghans. The total Afghan funds held by the US come to around $7bn, and President Biden had earlier made the equally unjust decision of allocating half of the funds to families of 9/11 victims, as if the Afghan people had facilitated those horrendous incidents. The US State Department spokesman recently said that there were no plans to transfer the remaining $3.5bn to the Afghan central bank because the US believed the funds could end up in the hands of terrorists. The decision has apparently been influenced by the discovery and subsequent killing in an American drone attack of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in Kabul last month.
While the US may have a point in preventing funds from reaching terrorist outfits, the fact is that the money in question belongs to neither America nor the Taliban; these funds belong to the people of Afghanistan. And the humanitarian situation for the average Afghan right now is dire. According to the UNHCR, 25m Afghans have been pushed into poverty, half the population is reliant on aid for survival, while a million children face “severe malnutrition”. And as a recent letter written to the US president by leading economists pointed out, Afghanistan’s economic collapse has been precipitated by the fact that its central bank has no funds. “The reserves”, the financial experts write, are “critical to the functioning of the Afghan economy”. To ensure the funds do not end up in the hands of terrorists, the US can involve Muslim states as guarantors with the Taliban so that the money is spent on rehabilitating the Afghan economy. By no means should America block these desperately needed funds.
Published in Dawn, August 18th, 2022