Hundreds of protesters marched through the streets of Kabul on Tuesday to demand the United States unfreeze Afghanistan’s financial assets.
The protesters chanted anti-America slogans and gathered in front of the shuttered U.S. embassy in the Afghan capital, with banners reading, “Give us our frozen money” and “Let us eat.”
Separately, dozens of Afghan private business representatives organized a demonstration in Kabul to call for Washington to unlock the foreign reserve. They insisted the punitive measure directed at the Taliban have had “a devastating impact” on “non-political” Afghan private sector and ordinary workers.
Organizers distributed copies of an open letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which they wrote that the collapse of the Western-backed Afghan administration left behind $600 million in unpaid bills for the services rendered under government contracts and internationally funded projects.
Washington blocked Kabul’s access to roughly $9.4 billion, mostly held in the U.S. Federal Reserve, immediately after the Islamist Taliban took control of the war-torn country in mid-August.
The freezing of the money and international sanctions have brought the Afghan economy, which heavily depended on external aid over the past 20 years, to the brink of collapse. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have also halted financial assistance for the development projects.
The crisis has increased humanitarian needs to record levels in Afghanistan, stemming from years of war, drought and extreme poverty. The United Nations estimates more than half of the nearly 40 million population face starvation, with 1 million children at risk of dying of “severe acute malnutrition.”
Letter To Biden
On Monday, a group of 46 mostly Democratic lawmakers wrote a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, pressing him to ease ongoing punitive sanctions and unblock the Afghan reserves.
“The U.S. confiscation of $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s currency reserves held in the United States is contributing to soaring inflation and the shuttering of commercial banks and vital private businesses, plunging the country…deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis,” the lawmakers wrote.
They argued “punitive economic policies” will not weaken Taliban leaders but will rather hurt innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty.
The Biden administration responded that its hands are tied regarding frozen funds but it continues to support humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, responding to a VOA question about the letter, told reporters that the status of the Afghan reserves was the subject of an ongoing litigation brought by victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks and other terrorist attacks “who hold judgments against the Taliban.”
“The Taliban remain sanctioned by the United States as a specially designated global terrorist group. That certainly has not changed, but this is, of course, complicated by the ongoing litigation over those funds,” Pasaki argued.
Analyst Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, said the Taliban need to make the central bank completely independent, with non-Taliban professional leadership and auditable by the IMF.
“The U.S. needs funds to go for aid and not the security sector. Audits of the central bank can answer to that. This can pave the way for release of reserve funds in tranches through Afghanistan’s central bank and support the Afghan economy much more effectively,” Farhadi said.
The Biden administration is pressing the Islamist group to cut ties with terrorist groups, including al-Qaida, end reprisals against Afghans affiliated with the deposed government, rule Afghanistan inclusively, uphold human rights, and allow women to fully participate in public life and girls to seek an education.