Punishing the Afghans

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PRESIDENT Biden’s decision to begin the process of splitting half of the Afghan central bank’s assets on the deposit of $7bn in the Federal Reserve Bank, to compensate the victims of the 9/11 attacks, is simply appalling and lacks moral ground.

Granted that the executive order also aims to unlock the balance of $3.5bn to pay for the humanitarian needs of the Afghan population, but the very decision of the superpower to seize half the amount that legally belongs to an impoverished nation is wrong on many levels and has raised some serious questions.

For one, these assets belong to Afghanistan and not to the Taliban rulers. How can Washington justify inflicting collective punishment on the Afghans to penalise the Taliban? It raises a legal question as well. The money belongs to the Afghan central bank and therefore, should not be commandeered to pay the Taliban’s judgement debt. None of the 19 hijackers involved in the horrific terrorist attacks on that tragic day were Afghans. True, the plotters used Afghan soil and were under the Taliban’s protection, but to penalise the entire population implies that the attack had the sanction of the entire nation.

Read more: Afghans protest US order to give $3.5bn to 9/11 victims, central banks demands reversal of decision

One would have hoped that the US, which bombed its way into Afghanistan to seek revenge, and then spent trillions of dollars to rebuild it, only to leave two decades later and virtually hand over the country to the Taliban on a platter, would have learnt a few lessons. Sadly, it has not.

The decision will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for America’s counterterrorism efforts and will lead to destabilising a country that is already on the verge of financial collapse. Afghanistan’s banking system is near disintegration. Seizing the money, part of which belonged to the country’s commercial banks, has dealt a mortal blow to the Afghan banking sector.

Moreover, there is mass starvation and poverty in the country. Mr Biden’s decision will only complicate matters. It has already deprived Afghan banks of much-needed liquidity and will put further strain on the value of the Afghan currency, thus fuelling more inflation and making it even harder for the banks to honour their commitments which, in turn, will lead to defaults.

This does not represent a good picture of a country that has seen far too much bloodshed. The decision has more or less left the Afghan banking system to fend for itself. The Biden administration is reported to have spent months in discussions on how to untangle the legal complications related to the unfreezing of Afghan assets, but surely there could have been a better and smarter way to try and stabilise Afghanistan’s economy by channelling the funds back to its central bank, while ensuring that the money did not fall into the hands of the Taliban. An unstable Afghanistan does not serve anyone’s interest.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2022

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