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No, Mr. President! You Have No Right Over Afghan Assets – OpEd

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United States President Joe Biden has signed an executive order which will split $7 billion frozen Afghan funds, half of which will go to the victims’ of 9/11 attacks, who are still seeking relief for the terror attacks; and half of it will be provided as humanitarian aid for poverty-stricken Afghanistan. Biden’s move to pay the grieving Americans in order to punish Taliban is nothing less than larceny as collective punishment. Afghans frozen funds belong to people of Afghanistan and must remain with them. 

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After the Afghan Taliban’s forced takeover of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, United States (U.S.) has frozen the single largest amount the Afghan government had in foreign banks. While the executive order said that Biden’s administration “will seek to facilitate access to $3.5 billion” of Afghan assets “for the benefit of Afghan people and for Afghanistan’s future”; the other $3.5 billion would be “pending a judicial decision” which is claimed by the families of 9/11 victims.

While Taliban’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed said that the group will use every diplomatic approach to push President Biden to reverse his decision, Mohammad Naeem Wardak, Taliban’s official, in an open letter, termed the decision as the “squeezing of a wounded hand”. Hamid Karzai, the former Afghan President, called it an “atrocity” against the people of Afghanistan. 

The decision has drawn harsh criticism from many quarters, and Pakistan, the neighboring country, in a carefully worded statement said “these (assets) are owned by Afghan nation and should be released”. Barnett Rubin, former U.S. official, in a tweet said, “So the world’s richest country has decided to rob the world’s poorest country in the name of justice. A fitting end to the War on Terror”.

As Afghans are going through the worst form of humanitarian crisis, the financial crunch that the nation is facing is beyond imagination. It is an undeniable fact that Afghan’s had nothing to do with 9/11 attacks and they even now have nothing to do with Taliban’s forced takeover of the country. They were suppressed in previous (1996-2001) Taliban’s rule and are experiencing the same even after the two decades of war. U.S, NATO, and their allies fought in the name of “War on Terror” and took the rule from Taliban in 2001 and handed it over back to the same group in 2021. 

The point of concern is that why Afghan people should pay the cost of 9/11 attacks, and why they should be punished if Taliban are not adhering to West’s demands of Human rights and particularly women rights. This painful asymmetry illustrates the enduring colonial nature of international politics. The President Biden’s decision will dampen Afghan anger towards the Taliban and the remaining fund diverted through aid agencies will make the ruling group more reluctant to make any compromises. The dire humanitarian crisis may force the Afghans to take streets; which may lead to chaos and the worsening situation will further the anti-American sentiments. 

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The haphazard U.S. withdrawal has also put the future of many fleeing Afghans in limbo as they are waiting in refugee facilities in UAE and other countries, to be re-located to U.S. It has produced the specter of a failed state, the fear of famine and the likelihood of deaths and suffering on a large scale. The push factor (dwindling economy) in the home country will force more Afghans to flee to U.S., Europe and to the neighboring countries, i.e. Pakistan and Iran. 

While the compensation of 9/11 victims with Afghanistan’s money is unjust, the counter argument arises that who will compensate the Afghan people who have been in the state of war for the last 40 years and lost their loved ones. Afghan people and politicians are of the view that U.S. ceded its presence and the power of Afghan government to Taliban by giving numerous concessions in Doha Deal; and the way both Afghan nation and former President Ashraf Ghani’s administration were kept out, now the US should be blamed for such bleak future. 

The Biden’s administration in the coming months will divert the $3.5 billion to Afghans as humanitarian assistance through aid agencies, at the same time the report of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) should be kept in mind, as it in 2021 said, “Surveys and anecdotal evidence indicate that corrupt officials at all levels of government victimized and alienated Afghan population. Substantial U.S. funds found their way to insurgent groups, some portion of which was due to corruption”. This time the aid agencies will use the same mechanism to carry out the assistance mission, but it will not reach the people on the ground. 

As compared to former President Ashraf Ghani’s government, Taliban are now in-charge and they, as are doing, will not allow foreigner workers to carry out the assistance mission and there is a grave danger that the money will be diverted to Taliban’s foot soldiers. Looking at the unfolding scenario in Afghanistan, the Biden administration should reverse its decision and provide the much-needed funds to “Da Afghanistan Bank”, the central bank of Afghanistan, so the people can get cash, salaries and the economy can start functioning, else U.S., despite being powerful and rich, will leave bitter memories in the minds of Afghan people.

As the U.S.’ intentions show that Washington wants Taliban to commit guarantees over Human Rights, freedom of press and denial of soil to terrorists’ groups, the ruling Taliban regime will use the same as their leverage against U.S. and West for gaining the much-needed legitimization. In this case, the only people who are the most suffering are Afghans and they have neither power to stand against Taliban nor can plea the U.S. to end the lawlessness which they are going through.               

*Qudrat Ullah is a freelancer and media activist. He writes on political developments and security issues with special focus on South Asia and the region.

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