In Afghanistan, ‘more people will die of hunger in 2022 alone than from violence during the last 20 years of conflict’, if the international community does not take drastic action.
That was the warning, back in December, from four aid experts including Elizabeth Winter, executive director of BAAG, the British & Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group. BAAG includes ActionAid, CAFOD, Christian Aid and Oxfam.
One key issue is Afghanistan’s foreign reserves. When the Taliban retook power a year ago, the US, Britain, Germany, Switzerland and the UAE retaliated by taking over (stealing) $9bn in Afghan government reserves stored in their countries. $7bn is held by the US; hundreds of millions are probably held by the Bank of England.
Western donors also ended their funding of Afghan public services, stopped aid to the country and isolated the Afghan banking system, all with devastating effects.
US and Taliban officials are exchanging proposals for releasing some frozen Afghan government reserves into a ‘trust fund’, it was reported on 26 July, as aid agencies said that almost 19 million Afghans – more than half of the population – were facing the risk of starvation. (The World Food Program warned at the end of July that it faces a net funding shortage of $960mn over the next six months.)
‘An illegal decision’
In mid-July, Andrés Arauz, the former general director of the Central Bank of Ecuador, said that there was ‘only one path’ that could help end the suffering of the Afghan people: allowing the Afghan central bank, DAB, ‘immediate access to its foreign reserves in full’.
Arauz wrote in OpenDemocracy that it was not enough to use frozen funds to pay for humanitarian assistance: this ‘would do little to restore a functioning economy,’ which needs a functioning central bank.
Arauz concluded: ‘The people of Afghanistan are starving as a direct result of an illegal and immoral decision by the Biden administration’. He called on the US to release to the Afghan government all $7bn held in the US Federal Reserve bank in New York.
The same call was made in April by a coalition of 40 US faith-based, human rights and peace groups.
The coalition wrote in an open letter to US president Joe Biden that, although many factors had contributed to Afghanistan’s economic disaster, it was his decision to freeze the $7bn reserves held in the US ‘that has pushed a fragile economy over the edge’.
Biden has seized half of this sum for potential compensation to the families of 9/11 victims. The open letter quoted members of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows who lost loved ones to the attacks: ‘The Afghan people are not responsible… The Afghan people are as much victims of 9/11 as we are’; ‘I can’t think of a worse betrayal of the people of Afghanistan.’