Less than collateral: Under Biden, America again punishes Afghanistan for the crimes of others
United States President Biden signed an executive order on Friday, 11 February to free US$ 7 billion of Afghan reserves frozen in US Federal Reserve’s bank in New York, distributing half of the amount to compensate the relatives of victims of the September 11th attacks of 2001, while the other half is to be poured into a trust fund for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan.
In a statement, the White House declared the order is "designed to provide a path for the funds to reach the people of Afghanistan while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban and malicious actors".
As the US's nation-building project got underway in 2001, warlords were morphed into ministers, governors, generals, and members of parliament and the cash payments kept rolling. Economic growth has risen and fallen in tandem with the number of foreign troops in the country, and an effective and sustainable economy was a dream for millions of Afghans. The result was a fantasy economy that quickly collapsed and pushed much of the population into catastrophic hunger.
"Biden's order fuels further chaos in Afghanistan by fermenting a shortage in case, as Afghan citizens, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations struggle to withdraw cash"
In the past two decades, the former Afghan government had US$ 10 billion in assets in central banks around the world, with US$ 7 billion in the United States, and the rest scattered across Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the UAE.
The assets, including currency, bonds, and gold, were frozen when the Taliban held control of the country on August 15. They are vital for the liquidity and essential functionality of the economy, and the frozen assets have halted the economic activity. Afghans have lost access to the money saved in banks. Vendors have no access to capital to front the imports. Exporters cannot access money to keep their businesses operating. The Afghani currency has tumbled in value.
Approximately 75 per cent of Afghanistan government expenditures, including education and healthcare, were previously directly funded by international aid. As a result, the Taliban has largely been unable to pay the salaries of thousands of civil servants, including 222,000 teachers, who have not been paid for more than six months. Plenty of jobs across the economy vanished.
US$ 3.5 billion of the frozen assets is planned to go to international organizations, which have enormous overheads, meaning that most of the money will not reach the millions of Afghans in need. Biden's order fuels further chaos in Afghanistan by fermenting a shortage in case, as Afghan citizens, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations struggle to withdraw cash; with massive lines emerging outside banks as people desperately try to withdraw a limit of US$300 a week.
Biden's signed executive order and the sanctions have devastated the Afghan economy, punishing millions of starving people and forcing a mass migration crisis, and the winter weather only made things worse. A staggering 22.8 million people, or 55 per cent of the population, are expected to be in crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity. More than half of all children under five years of age are now in 2022 likely to be acutely malnourished, a 21 per cent increase since the start of 2021.
The food crisis is getting worse by the day. While shops remain open, food prices have skyrocketed by almost 20 to 30 per cent. Afghans could barely put food on the table before, but now many families are surviving on one meal per day. The ongoing uncertainty means that most crucial aid efforts remain frozen as the needs compound. If urgent action is not taken to aid those in need, we will likely see a new flood of starvation, misery, and death.
By and large, Afghans are insulted by Biden decision. As soon as it was announced, thousands of Afghans, including business owners, came out in various cities around the country and protested. Their slogan: "Biden, stop being hostile to the people of Afghanistan."
While 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis and Osama Bin laden entered Afghanistan from Pakistan and was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Neither Saudi Arabia nor Pakistan is being held responsible. Meanwhile, not one Afghan was involved in the 9/11 attacks. More so, nearly 63.7 per cent of Afghans are under 25 years of age, meaning that the majority of Afghans were not even born at that time of the attacks. Why are they paying such a high cost?
In the past decades, Afghanistan's issues have never remained confined within its borders. The economic and humanitarian crisis collapse could distillate conflict worse than what was seen before, potentially creating further room for international terrorist organizations to recruit soldiers. Colin Kahl, the US Undersecretary of Defense, warned that the Islamic State in Khorasan Province and al-Qaeda could be able to launch attacks on the West within six months to two years.
"In the end, the US and the international community at large are effectively punishing 40 million Afghans for the actions of a tyrannical regime that took power by force"
"The theft and seizure of money held/frozen by the United States of the Afghan people represent the lowest level of the human and moral decay of a country, and a nation," Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem stated on Twitter, the day when Biden's order was announced.
Two decades ago, the US pledged to support the Afghan people in their pursuit of democracy, stability, prosperity and human rights. The US has a moral commitment to stop fermenting a humanitarian crisis and more death.
But in the end, the US and the international community at large are effectively punishing 40 million Afghans for the actions of a tyrannical regime that took power by force. History will judge the US and the international community harshly for how they allowed the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate, and how they continue to make things worse.
Mujtaba Haris is an Afghan researcher, journalist, and youth advocate. He spent 15 years working in major cities — Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif — and rural areas — Logar province. He is an MBA graduate from Cumbria University, UK. He is a Global Peace award winner.
Follow him on Twitter: @mujtaba_haris
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