‘The unanimous view of the UN, the Red Cross, Red Crescent, the nongovernmental organisations, our own 1,500 aid workers, who are now being paralysed, is that the crisis is just catastrophic. It’s a population in freefall, really. Again, it’s minus-15 Celsius, but people are out in the open. People have now been hungry for months.
‘Famine is coming and will engulf six million, is the estimation. Water and sanitation is lacking for people. Epidemic disease is threatening. It couldn’t be worse, really.’
Those were the words of Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to Democracy Now! from Kabul, Afghanistan, on 12 January.
One problem Egeland mentioned: ‘We need the frozen assets of the Afghan people to be released for the people.’
After the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan in August 2021, governments around the world seized the $9bn foreign assets of the Afghan central bank. $7bn was ‘frozen’ by the US, leaving $2bn in the hands of Britain, Germany, Switzerland and the UAE.
This had a disastrous effect on the Afghan economy.
PN believes that the Bank of England (BoE) is holding hundreds of millions of dollars of Afghan government reserves. The BoE and the treasury have refused to reveal how much Britain has seized, despite Freedom of Information requests.
All these stolen assets could have a valuable humanitarian impact if they were restored to the Afghan central bank. Much of the $9bn is actually money that was in the process of being used for business transactions, underpinning the Afghan economy.
In September, the US confiscated half of the Afghan assets it was holding to form a fund for 9/11 victims. The other $3.5bn was turned into an ‘Afghan Fund’ to ‘protect, preserve, and make targeted disbursements of that $3.5 billion to help provide greater stability to the Afghan economy’.
US journalist Sarah Lazare interviewed two of the four trustees of the Afghan Fund for In These Times and for Workday magazine. She discovered that, between September and December 2022, despite the desperate and urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the fund had not released any of the $3.5bn to support the Afghan economy, and had ‘no immediate plans to make significant disbursements to the central bank’.