As fears of a humanitarian disaster mount, the West faces a desperate dilemma: Can it help Afghans without aiding the Taliban?
The answer depends on your definition of “aid.” But a range of creative solutions are circulating — with some already being put to use — that could begin to address warnings from relief agencies that Western sanctions on the Taliban are hurting the Afghan people.
The United Nations is in the midst of a record funding appeal for Afghanistan. But without a solution that restores the flow of money into and throughout the country, the number of Afghans at risk of hunger is doomed to soar, aid groups say.
That disaster, for the most part, is man-made. Many Afghans were struggling before the Taliban’s takeover. But 80 percent of Afghanistan’s budget depended on overseas funding. Cut off from that flow, “a large, newly impoverished urban working class” has mushroomed, Constable wrote.
The Biden administration, as my colleague Karen DeYoung reported, has joined much of the world in saying that the Taliban cannot be recognized unless it ensures the human and civil rights of all Afghans, including minorities and women, and breaks ties with terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. As a stopgap, the U.S. Treasury granted narrow licenses for the flow of humanitarian assistance, including hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington. Under pressure from aid groups and U.S. lawmakers, the U.S. Treasury expanded the definition of humanitarian assistance last month.
Many large banks remain too wary of Washington’s sanctions regime to handle transactions to Afghanistan, aid groups say. That’s left a large number of charities to rely on cumbersome and costly systems that involve working with middlemen outside the country to access funds within Afghanistan, an option few see as a solution for preventing a humanitarian emergency.
Even with the administration’s new exemptions, “we’re not getting a lot of assistance from the banks,” Callahan said. “Money transfers continue to be a challenge.”
Even if the United States was to consider unfreezing those funds, technical questions, he said, would need to be addressed — including who could legally ask for them in a Taliban government unrecognized by Washington.
Yet observers say there are plenty of options that could help, and there are signs the Biden administration is moving in that direction after sharp criticism in recent months of not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis.
The Post’s David Ignatius on Tuesday reported that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had backed a plan to ease Afghanistan’s liquidity crisis through a new World Bank “humanitarian exchange facility.” The facility would allow donors to convert their dollars and euros into the local currency to pay doctors, nurses and other aid workers. The facility is likely to begin operating in mid-February and is expected to send $20 million to $40 million into the country each month.
The State Department, he reported, has also encouraged the World Bank to make money available from a $1.5 billion Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, with an initial payment of about $280 million released in recent weeks and hundreds of millions more in the pipeline. The administration is additionally “encouraging a cash infusion program” that would ship between $120 million to $150 million a month to ease Afghanistan’s liquidity crisis through a financial services company based in Europe.
“The Afghanistan International Bank is the most likely candidate for this deputization,” he wrote for the Lawfare Blog.
Shah Mehrabi, a member of the Afghan central bank’s governing board and an economics professor at Montgomery College in Maryland, has floated the idea of tapping frozen Afghan government assets overseas for small monthly transfers to the central bank, solely for purpose of auctioning off dollars to private banks, according to the New York Times editorial board. Such auctions, he argues, are easy to monitor and could be cut off if the money was misused.
Since the U.S.-based funds are caught up in litigation, the Times points to the $2.5 billion worth of Afghan central bank reserves in Europe as an alternative source.
Less radical solutions could help, too. Human Rights Watch and aid organizations argue that the U.S. Treasury could draft letters to big foreign banks, explicitly stating that wire transfers for approved uses will not get them into hot water. In an email, Amanda Catanzano, a senior official with the International Rescue Committee, argued for a suite of possible solutions, including U.N.-sanctioned currency swaps and jump-starting the banking system by unfreezing the foreign assets held by certain Afghan individuals and corporations, if not the government.
“The idea that Washington can’t do more is disingenuous,” John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, told me. “There’s a lot they can do that they’re not doing now.”
Disclaimer: How to help Afghans without aiding the Taliban By Anthony Faiola - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view