WASHINGTON (AP), — The grim situation in Afghanistan is worsening as winter intensifies. The downward spiral of violence that has followed the fall and takeover by the Taliban government, which was backed by the U.S., is being compounded by the freezing temperatures.
International agencies and aid groups estimate that 23 million people are in severe hunger, and almost 9 million are at risk of starvation. People are forced to sell their possessions in order to purchase food, to heat their homes with wood or to give up their children.
This month, the U.S. government announced $308 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. It is also working with the U.N. as well as organizations like the World Bank to provide additional aid. Biden’s administration also clarified that U.S. sanctions against the Taliban should not block humanitarian aid. There is increasing pressure to do more. For example, unfreezing Afghan government funds at the New York Federal Reserve Bank.
Let’s take a look at the situation.
HOW DID AFGHANISTAN CONDITIONS GET SO CRAZY SO FAST?
Before August’s Taliban takeover, Afghanistan was in dire straits. More than half of the population lived on less than $2 per day. Around 80% of Afghanistan’s entire budget came from international donors. According to the U.N., more than half of children below 5 years old were likely to suffer from acute malnutrition. The country was also suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic and a prolonged drought. This is a devastating situation in a country that has 25% of its GDP.
After 20 years of war, the U.S. voluntarily resigned. This meant that the military and support that accounted for about half the economy was gone. In the two months prior to the Taliban takeover, most government employees hadn’t been paid. About half a million Afghans lost their jobs since then, with many of them being women who were forced out by the Taliban.
Because of the currency shortage, Afghans can only get a small amount of the money in their bank accounts. Because of U.S. sanctions, banks are reluctant to do business with countries whose leaders are subject to sanctions, people abroad are having difficulty sending money to their family in Afghanistan.
According to Ciaran Donnelly of the International Rescue Committee, there is plenty of food on the market, but most people cannot afford it. Donnelly said, “This is a humanitarian emergency, an economic collapse, and a state failure all wrapped into one.” “They’re all feeding off one another.”
WHAT HAS THE U.S. DONE SO FAR TO HELP? WHAT HAS THE U.S. DONE SO FAR TO HELP?
After the withdrawal, President Joe Biden stated that the U.S. will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. This was in response to a peace agreement with the Taliban signed by President Donald Trump. The U.S. remains the largest source of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and the U.N. is working to raise $5 billion.
The U.S. has yet to recognize the new government nor lift sanctions against the Taliban and its senior officials for providing al-Qaida with a safe haven while plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks. This has at least created the impression that Afghanistan is not allowed to send money or do business there.
Under condition of anonymity, a senior administration official acknowledged that there is a perception that sanctions go further than the Taliban leadership. According to the official, the U.S. sought to dispel the perception in part through what are called “special licenses,” which were issued in December to ensure that international organizations, other countries and NGOs could continue to provide humanitarian assistance despite the sanctions.
According to the official, the U.S. is also working with the World Bank (and the Asian Development Bank) to use money left over for Afghan reconstruction prior the Taliban takeover for humanitarian aid.
Roya Rahmani was a former Afghan ambassador to America. She said that while she didn’t support the recognition of the new government, the issue must not be separated from discussions about humanitarian aid. This is critical even if some of the aid ends up in the hands the Taliban.
She stated that there is an “extremely potent and real disaster boiling up in Afghanistan and people are suffering now.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT AFGHAN MONEY FROGGIN IN THE U.S.A?
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has nearly $7 billion in Afghan funds that were frozen after the Taliban takeover in Aug. The Taliban demanded the money but the sanctions prevent them from transferring it to them. The families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks filed a claim for the funds to pay the judgment in a lawsuit against al-Qaida, the Taliban.
Thursday’s letter to Biden was signed by 41 Democratic members of Congress. It asked the president to “ensure a substantial portion” of the assets be used for humanitarian relief. He argued that the country will “once more become a breeding ground” for terrorist organizations such as al-Qaida.
Shah Mehrabi, an economist at Montgomery College in Maryland, and a member of the board of the Afghanistan Central Bank, believes that a portion should be used to stabilize prices and pay salaries for civil servants. He also recommends that the government freeze some of the funds. He warns that if the economy is not managed properly, it could plunge into freefall.
Mehrabi stated, “I don’t believe that’s in our interest and in the United States’ interests.”
A senior administration official stated that the administration was discussing the fate of the funds, but must let the judicial process deal with the legal claim made by Sept. 11 victims families.
Is THERE MORE THAT THE USA AND OTHERS CAN DO?
The Treasury Department has been urged by aid groups and others to send “comfort mails” to governments and businesses assuring them that they will not face any legal consequences for doing business with Afghanistan. However, the official stated that the general licenses were meant to do exactly that.
Rahman, who was once ambassador to Afghanistan, suggested that the administration encourage Afghan government assets to be unfrozen in U.S. banks. He also suggested that the international community come up with creative solutions, such as mobile banking, to make it easier for Afghans to send money home to their families.
Rahman states that whatever is done, it should happen quickly.
She said that “starvation and suffering fosters despair,” and “hopelessness fosters extremism and terrorism, and many other evils.”