President Joe Biden has set into motion a legal process that could end up Afghanistan losing half of its 7 billion dollars national reserves currently frozen in New York Federal Reserve Bank.
Biden’s February 11 executive order coincided with the deadline of a New York court for the administration to explain its position on the future of Afghanistan’s reserves.
Biden’s deecision has come under sharp critcism from Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers, former US-installed president Hamid Karzai and members of the civil society. Karzai termed the decision an “atrocity”, “unjust and unfair” to the Afghan people because, according to him, they too were victimized by al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Not a single national of Afghanistan was involced in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And almost half of the this world’s most impovrished country population was born after 9/11 terrorst attacks. Conversely, fifteen of the 9/11 terrorists were citizens of Saudi Arabia, a key US ally.
“If 9/11 victims were to be compensated by any country, it should have been Saudi Arabia which has billions of dollars in investments in the US. But no American administration can afford to get compensation from the Saudis,” wrote Wusatullah Khan, one of Pakistan’s most respected columnists, in a scathing Urdu column on BBC Urdu website.
The negative reaction is not just limited to Afghanistan. Media in the US, human rights organizations and many countries across the world have also urged President Bidn to reconsider and reverse his decision.
“If implemented, the decision would create a problematic precedent for commandeering sovereign wealth and do little to address underlying factors driving Afghanistan’s massive humanitarian crisis,” wrote John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, in an article. “Directing $3.5 billion to humanitarian assistance for Afghans may sound generous, but it should be remembered that the entire $7 billion already legally belonged to the Afghan people,” he added.
Biden’s decision would effectively bankrupt the country’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank, add to the growing sense of betrayal and anti-American sentiment on the streets of Kabul and beyond. Afghans – commoners and elite alike – are upset and disappointed. The decision has put to risk the goodwill and common acceptance the US had achieved in Afghannistan, especially urban centers, where it invested heavily in blood and treasure.
Washington’s critics equate the current strategy with Afghanistan’s economicc strangulation. The President’s policy choice has surprised many Washington watchers, who, they say, had multiple and better options. Among others, one available possible policy option was a more accommodating diplomatic way forward to save Afghan institutions that America built over 20 years by spending hundreds of billions of dollars.
Saving Afghan state institutions using policy instruments would have helped common Afghans without formally recognizing the Taliban government. The other, as was a foregone conclusion – is leading to the collapse of Afghan state, a man-made humanitarian disaster and possibily pushing Afghanistan to become a failed state.
History has proved again and again that a failed state has always proved to be a fertile ground for extremist groups to thrive, and drugs business to flourish. A failed Afghan state is in no one’s interest, a striking reality which leaves little room for Washington and allied countries but to work with the government in Kabul — no matter how imperfectly — to prevent further threats to the tattering state.
“Targeted financial sanctions are an appropriate and powerful tool to punish bad actors and odious regimes. The mere threat of them can achieve results. But too often their cumulative effect over time is indistinguishable from collective punishment,” wrote The New York Times in an editorial.
“Ordinary people who have nothing to do with the Taliban have been largely cut off from the international banking system, simply because they live in Afghanistan. Even though U.S. Treasury Department officials say that the central bank of Afghanistan is not under sanctions, financial institutions around the world are treating it as if was,” adds NYT.
The Times capped the ongoing connversation with simple message to the administration: “The war has been lost, but that doesn’t mean every institution that Americans worked with is destined to disappear. There’s still time to save Afghanistan’s central bank”.
NYT is correct in its finding. The world still has a little window of opportunity to save Afghanistan from sinking into the bottomless abyss of universal poverty, hunger, mass refugee exodus into neighbouring countries and Europe. International relief agencies are warning that the he man-made disaster can cause more deaths than the 20 years of war especially among children.
President Biden can change the course of history by amending his executive order so as to keep Afghanistan’s assets untouched, faciliate infusion of cash into its economy and continue with the good policy of sending humanitarian aid (more than 516 million dollars since last August and counting) to Afghanistan. A functioning Afghan state is better than none because a failed Afghann state can become a serious threat to US national innterests and regional security.