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39 Congressmen urge Biden to release frozen Afghan funds

They said they had no desire to help the Taliban government and believe that there is an approach that the U.S. can take to help prevent a catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy while not providing legitimacy to the Taliban.

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The congressmen from both the Democrats and Republican parties asked the Biden Administration to release frozen Afghan assets, clarify the existing sanctions exemptions on humanitarian aid and allow international financial institutions to inject necessary economic capital into Afghanistan.

In an open bipartisan letter signed by 39 congressmen and addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen, the lawmakers asked the US Administration to assist multilateral organizations attempting to pay Afghan civil servants, the vast majority of whom were hold-overs from the previous government and have gone unpaid for months.

“No one benefits from a failed state in Afghanistan. While we will continue to press the administration to ensure that we protect the American people from any potential future threats that may emanate from Afghanistan and enable Afghans at special risk of persecution to leave their country, the United States has an equal responsibility to help the many millions more who will stay to survive the winter, to feed their children, and to preserve what can be salvaged of the progress made during the last 20 years,” the letter said.

They said the Afghan people were on the verge of famine and economic collapse and believed that decisive action was needed to prevent a humanitarian disaster.

They said they had no desire to help the Taliban government and believe that there is an approach that the U.S. can take to help prevent a catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy while not providing legitimacy to the Taliban.

“To be clear, we are recommending steps below to provide aid funding to the Afghan people directly – not the Taliban – while also preventing economic collapse and developing a framework to ensure the Taliban uphold its commitments on counterterrorism, access to secondary school for girls, and the formation of an inclusive government,” the lawmakers said.

The congressmen said approximately 18.4 million Afghans needed humanitarian assistance, including 30% of the population facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, including 2 million children.

They said even Afghans with savings in the bank were unable to withdraw funds in sufficient quantities as banks and other institutions run out of dollars.

“The growing economic and food crisis has prompted fears of mass migration that may further destabilize the region. These fears are compounded by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province’s (ISKP) direct challenge to Taliban rule, increasing the risk that portions of the country could become safe havens for extremist activity.”

Pay Afghan civil servants: US Congressmen

Accordingly, the lawmakers recommend the Biden administration to release frozen Afghan assets to an appropriate United Nations agency to pay teacher salaries and provide meals to children in schools, so long as girls can continue to attend.

Read more: Pakistan urges UN to unfreeze Afghan assets amid economic collapse

Secondly, the Biden administration should provide additional guidance to financial institutions to clarify the existing sanctions exemptions on humanitarian aid. Doing so will make financial institutions more comfortable processing aid transactions without fear of violating U.S. sanctions while also expanding targeted exemptions to ensure that humanitarian assistance flows more freely.

“These steps, implemented with proper oversight, would not support the Taliban government, but would ensure that Afghans have access to the basic services they need to survive while bypassing the Taliban government,” they wrote.

The congressmen also asked the Biden administration to assist multilateral organizations attempting to pay Afghan civil servants, the vast majority of whom are hold-overs from the previous government and have gone unpaid for months.

The World Bank recently agreed to release to UN agencies an initial $280 million of the $500 million from the frozen Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) to assist the public sector and the U.S. should support the Bank with any technical or sanctions-related hurdles.

Read more: Pakistan to host OIC meeting on Afghanistan

Moreover, the Biden administration should allow international financial institutions to inject the necessary economic capital into Afghanistan to stave off the worst of its economic meltdown while avoiding the transfer of money to the Taliban-led government.

In the short term, the World Bank, with US help, should systemize dollar-for-Afghanis swaps between humanitarian agencies and Afghan businesses. Ultimately, Afghanistan will need an entity to serve as a central bank.

The Biden administration should signal openness to designating a private Afghan or third-country bank to facilitate dollar auctions not only to stop a meltdown but to enable ordinary Afghans to get back on their feet without having to depend on the Taliban.

They believed that the upcoming United Nations appeal was expected to be the largest UN appeal in the world, meaning Afghanistan would be the worst of all humanitarian disasters. Therefore the United States and its allies should prepare to rally donors to contribute their fair share.

Read more: OIC Summit: Pakistan leaves no stone unturned to help Afghanistan

They recalled that nearly 775,000 American troops served in Afghanistan, and thousands of Americans and Afghans alike gave their lives or were wounded.

“We have an obligation to honor this service and sacrifice by standing by the Afghan people as they continue the fight for human rights and the future of their country.”

Courtesy: APP