The human cost of US freezing Afghan funds - GulfToday

The human cost of US freezing Afghan funds

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Protesters hold banners as they shout anti-US slogans during a protest condemning President Joe Biden’s decision on frozen Afghan assets in Kabul, Afghanistan.   File/Associated Press

Protesters hold banners as they shout anti-US slogans during a protest condemning President Joe Biden’s decision on frozen Afghan assets in Kabul, Afghanistan. File/Associated Press

Last week International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the US and its European allies have adopted a “catastrophe of choice” policy for Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The interview amounted to a devastating indictment of the US and Europe by a furious Miliband, a former British foreign secretary who has been in his current post since 2013.

From August and early September the US and its allies have chosen to cut off the Afghan economy from public funds and private economic activity. No salaries are being paid to workers and banks limit the sums depositors with funds in banks can withdraw monthly.

Due to sanctions nine million people are at level 4 of food insecurity; level 5 is famine, he stated. The import-dependent economy can’t import because suppliers outside the country are scared of “getting tangled in the sanctions regime.” As a result, he said the World Food Programme “has to feed more than half of the population” of 38 million. Afghans are selling their children and internal organs to feed their families. This treatment is being meted out to the Afghan people in order to punish the more than 140 Taliban who are on UN Security Council “terrorist” lists, Miliband argued.

“There is a $4 billion aid bill. The UN has said this will be $10 billion aid bill if you can’t get the economy running.” The $9.2 billion in frozen foreign Afghan assets prevent the country’s banks from operating and firms from importing essentials like grain and machine tools, thereby crushing the country’s private economy. “As long as that is the case, we humanitarians we’re running up an escalator that is going down faster than we can cope.” His assessment amounts to a dramatic dismissal of officials and commentators who claim that starvation in Afghanistan can be resolved solely by humanitarian efforts.

When asked about recognition of the Taliban, Miliband said, “You can negotiate with people you don’t recognise. What I say there is recognition and there is recognition of reality.” He argued that when the UN Security Council addresses the renewal of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan this week it must address not only humanitarian aid but also the dire economic situation.

Amanpour raised the issue commonly given by Western powers for sanctioning Afghanistan: the Taliban’s denial of women’s rights to education, jobs and equality. She played a tape US President Joe Biden made last year during his presidential campaign when he said he would take “zero responsibility” for the fate of Afghan women when honouring his promise to withdraw US forces and hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban.

This is precisely what Biden has done by making, as Miliband put it, the “catastrophic choice” to starve Afghanistan of funds to run its economy, plunging Afghan women, children and their menfolk into want and famine. According to UN projections, by mid-2022, 97 per cent of Afghans will fall below the poverty line.

Adding a fresh financial injury to the fatal injury of sanctions, Biden has decided to allocate $3.5 billion of the $7 billion in Afghan funds held by the US Federal Reserve to cover lawsuits lodged by US victims and survivors of the Taliban-hosted Al Qaeda 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. These families have already received $7 billion in compensation! This is straightforward theft of captive Afghan money, $2 billion being private deposits by individuals and companies.

Biden earmarked the other $3.5 billion for Afghan humanitarian relief, which he might claim could be considered a US donation. Another $2.5 billion of Afghan funds remain stuck in British and European banks for fear of attracting US sanctions if they release the money.

The $7 billion blocked in the US alone amounts to half of Afghanistan’s economy and would fund 18 months of imports such as food, medicine, fertilizer, machine tools, and other essentials and permit the payment of salaries to public employees who have not received remunerations since August.

Writing in The New Yorker on January 5th, 2022, Jane Ferguson pointed out that a month after Biden pulled US forces from Afghanistan “only 17 per cent of the country’s more than twenty- three hundred health clinics were functional.” Doctors and nurses were not being paid. After witnessing Afghan suffering in a Kabul hospital, she blamed Taliban officials for refusing to “acknowledge the country’s growing crisis” which, she said, was caused by the 20-year failure of the US as occupying power to “build a self-sustaining economy” in Afghanistan.

She quoted World Food Programme director David Beasley as saying that the “’international community”… has done a disastrous job here – seventy-five percent of the economy is based on outside funding.’” Beasley, a former Republican state governor, called on Biden to release the funds held in US and other foreign banks. “If you unfreeze the money, then you can put liquidity back into the marketplace, and the economy will start to come back up,” he stated, adopting the same line as Miliband has taken.

Ferguson revealed that the Biden administration has, instead, permitted the UN, non-governmental agencies, and individuals to send money and supplies to Afghanistan and provided $144 million dollars for humanitarian aid. She rightly dismissed this sum as “less than a small fraction” of the amount desperately needed.

Indeed, it is a drop in the deep bucket of the January appeal for more than $5 billion in urgent emergency aid the UN seeks to raise: $4.4 billion to pay directly to health workers and others while avoiding funding the Taliban and $623 million to support refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries. This amount is the “largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance and it is three times the amount needed, and actually fundraised in 2021,” stated UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths quoted on UN websites.

In interviews with Afghans standing in lines for aid hand-outs, Ferguson learned that they blame the US rather than the Taliban for hunger as Washington refuses to release Afghan money. She concluded that the Biden administration has “handed the Taliban a public relations victory.”

Meanwhile, Biden and his stalwarts are beating the drums for a fresh war involving Russia, this time in Ukraine. It must not be forgotten that the Taliban was created to fight in the US-led campaign to drive Russian forces from Afghanistan. Western powers now speak of arming and training “resistance” fighters, as they did the Taliban, if Russia invades Ukraine. With what result? Undemocratic armed militias and devastation of the country.

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