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Taliban Asks US Congress to Release Over $9B in Frozen Afghan Assets
Afghanistan's acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, left, speaks during an event at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad on November 12, 2021. (Ahmad Kamal/Xinhua Islamabad)

Taliban Asks US Congress to Release Over $9B in Frozen Afghan Assets

As winter begins, Afghanistan teeters on the brink of a terrible humanitarian crisis

[Islamabad] The Taliban appealed directly to the US Congress on Wednesday to release Afghanistan’s reserve assets, which were frozen after the Islamists’ takeover in August.

In an open letter to Congress, the Taliban-led government emphasized that their country “is facing a humanitarian and economic disaster and it is getting worse.”

In the letter, Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban’s acting foreign minister, said “the main reason for the crisis is the freezing of Afghan central bank assets.”

He underlined the dilemma of the Afghan people and clarified that “the financial problems are causing irreversible damages to the country’s health, education and other civil services sectors.”

Muttaqi urged Congress to take “responsible steps” toward addressing the humanitarian and economic crisis.

“Freezing Afghan assets cannot resolve the problem at hand, neither is it the demand of the American people,” the letter reads.

Urging the US administration to release Afghanistan’s frozen assets, Muttaqi also wrote in the letter that following the signing of the Doha Agreement in February 2020 by the Trump administration and the Taliban in an effort to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan, “the US and Taliban is [sic] no longer neither [sic] in direct conflict or in military opposition. It is quite surprising that with the announcement of the new government, the US administration slapped sanctions on the assets of our central bank. This goes against our expectations as well as the Doha Agreement.”

“We believe that complete implementation of the Doha Agreement can open a new chapter of progressive relations between both governments and peoples,” the minister added.

Freezing Afghan assets cannot resolve the problem at hand, neither is it the demand of the American people

The letter further stated that “the United States was the first country to recognize Afghanistan’s independent government in 1921, so this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of relations between both countries.”

Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Zabiullah Mujahid, the chief spokesman for the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, told The Media Line that: “We have tried to send a message, especially to the American people, that we want peace. The Afghan people have been persecuted in the past.”

“Further enmity and violent behavior against the Afghan people must end now,” Mujahid underlined. “There will be no deed on Afghan soil against the US and its people. We want to establish diplomatic relations with the United States.”

In August 2021, after the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, $9.5 billion in Afghan foreign assets, most of it held by the US Federal Reserve, were frozen by the US and Europe. In addition, many global donors and organizations, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, stopped aid payments to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, Muttaqi, along with a high-level delegation, paid a three-day visit to Pakistan last week.

Muttaqi participated in a meeting of the extended Troika, or Troika Plus group, and had a special meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. The Troika Plus group, made up of Pakistan, China, Russia and the US, assembled in Islamabad to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, meeting for the first time since the change in power in Kabul.

Thomas West, the newly appointed US special representative for Afghanistan, participated in the extended Troika meeting on November 11-13.

The extended Troika met with senior Taliban representatives on the sidelines of the gathering.

We have tried to send a message, especially to the American people, that we want peace. The Afghan people have been persecuted in the past.

According to the US Embassy Islamabad: “In meetings of the extended Troika, participants discussed the way forward on Afghanistan.”

According to a joint statement released by the embassy, “The Troika meeting participants expressed deep concern regarding the severe humanitarian and economic situation in Afghanistan and reiterated unwavering support for the people of Afghanistan.”

The participants also called on the Taliban “to ensure unhindered humanitarian access, including by women aid workers, for the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan to respond to the developing crisis.”

Muttaqi, addressing an event at the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, accused Western countries of applying a double standard.

“There are around 3,100 foreign-funded operational clinics and mother-child health care centers in Afghanistan,” he said. “It was the same mother and child who were being treated yesterday [before the Taliban takeover] and it is the same woman, mother and child that are being treated today. Unfortunately, that aid has been cut.”

Nasser ud Deen, a Kabul-based chartered accountant, told The Media Line that “unfortunately, after the Taliban takeover hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs.”

He added that “unemployment was common in the country in the public sector, but now due to the closure of foreign aid, the work of the public sector has been clogged.”

Deen suggested that “one of the best ways to deal with this economic crisis at the grassroots level is that women should also work alongside their male family members.”

Even before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the country was already facing a drought, the consequences of the global pandemic, high-level corruption and mass displacement driven by the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces.

Saif Ullah Khan Wardak, a Kabul-based former adviser in the Ministry of Finance, told The Media Line that the “Taliban alone cannot be held responsible for the current economic situation in Afghanistan.”

“Even before the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the country was already facing a drought, the consequences of the global pandemic, high-level corruption and mass displacement driven by the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces,” he added.

“Under the ousted Ashraf Ghani-led regime, about 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP came from foreign aid, while 75% was being utilized to pay salaries and for other public services,” Wardak said.

“The banks and other financial institutions have been closed for nearly three months. Meanwhile, after the blockage of foreign aid, government employees have not been receiving their salaries as well,” he continued. “From this situation, it is possible to gauge the general economic condition of the country.”

“The only way to anticipate the looming humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan is to move beyond immediate emergency measures and evacuations,” Wardak said.

Meanwhile, as the freezing winter sets in, Afghanistan looks to be slipping into another devastating humanitarian disaster.

The World Food Program says that “Afghanistan is becoming the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 8.7 million people facing emergency levels of hunger this winter. The World Health Organization said 3.2 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan by the end of this year.”

According to UN News Services: “Acute food insecurity is affecting 14 million people in Afghanistan who are without reliable access to water, food and basic health and nutrition services, following years of conflict and the economic crisis, which has been exacerbated subsequently after the Taliban takeover in August.”

In October 2021, UN agencies warned that “an estimated 3.2 million Afghan children under five are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition by the end of the year. … Without immediate treatment, at least a million are at risk of dying.”

Deborah Lyons, UN special representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, told the Security Council on Wednesday that “despite a crisis of trust both within the country and abroad, three months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, it is taking halting steps to pursue international legitimacy.”

Emphasizing that the Taliban are genuinely trying to present themselves as a government, the special representative said they are “constrained by a lack of resources and a political ideology that clashes with contemporary international norms of governance.”

“To abandon the Afghan people now would be a historic mistake – a mistake that has been made before with tragic consequences,” she warned.

Later, while addressing a press conference in Washington, Lyons said that “an estimated 60% of Afghanistan’s 38 million people are facing crisis levels of hunger in a food emergency that will likely worsen over the winter.”

 

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