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Taliban government calls for release of Afghanistan’s frozen funds after deadly quake

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Afghan people keep their clothes to dry on dried-out shrubs near the ruins of houses damaged by an earthquake in Bermal district, Paktika province, on June 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Afghanistan's Taliban government has called on foreign governments to roll back sanctions imposed on Kabul and unfreeze the country’s central bank assets following the earthquake that killed more than 1,000 people and left thousands homeless.

Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for Taliban government’s foreign ministry asked “the world to give the Afghans their most basic right, which is their right to life and that is through lifting the sanctions and unfreezing our assets and also giving assistance."

Responding to Western countries’ criticism of the Taliban on alleged human rights grounds as a basis for not recognizing the Taliban government in Afghanistan, Balkhi said Afghans' right to life-saving funds should be the priority, adding that the international community handles concerns over human rights differently depending on the country involved.

"Is this rule universal?” Balkhi said, adding, "Sixteen countries in the world have taken away the rights of religious minorities, especially Muslims ... are they also facing sanctions because they are violating rights?"

The administration of US President Joe Biden has frozen the assets belonging to the Afghan Central Bank since the withdrawal of its occupation forces from the country in August 2021. Many of the US allies and Western governments have also largely suspended their financial assistance to Afghanistan since the US troop withdrawal and the Taliban takeover.

In early June, a coalition of family members of 9/11 victims, Afghan diaspora organizations, and diplomats appointed by the former Afghan government accused the US of dragging its feet on unfreezing assets of Afghanistan even as half of the crisis-hit country grapples with acute hunger.

The coalition called on the US government to take urgent steps to release the Afghan money.

“There are people waiting in bread lines and very poor children with malnutrition visible in public, but there are also many middle-class people rapidly falling into poverty. This is being driven in part because there’s no longer a functioning banking system and people are unable to access their salaries. It’s a problem that humanitarian aid alone is not going to be able to solve,” said Kelly Campbell, co-founder of the organization called “9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.”

During the same month, Afghan health experts issued a stern warning about the dire healthcare situation in the country, exacerbated by a medicine shortage linked to the nation's frozen assets in the United States.

Medical experts said urgent action was needed to contain the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a measles outbreak in the country while citing acute malnutrition as another health problem requiring swift action.

The head of Afghanistan Medicine Service Union, Assadullah Kakar, said the poor healthcare system in the country, which worsened after the US pullout and Taliban takeover, is rapidly getting worse, adding that Afghanistan is currently facing an unprecedented medicine shortage amid a sharp rise in drug prices.

In February, Afghanistan's Central Bank condemned a decision by the United States to seize billions of dollars of frozen Afghan funds to pay the claimants of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

This came after the White House announced that the US Treasury planned to block half of the $7-billion Afghan funds frozen in the US banks to distribute among the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) censured the Joe Biden administration’s plan, saying the funds had been invested in the United States in line with international practices and belonged to the people of Afghanistan.

"DAB considers the latest decision of USA on blocking FX (foreign exchange) reserves and allocating them to irrelevant purposes, injustice to the people of Afghanistan," the central bank said in a statement.

Also in February, the Taliban government condemned as "theft" and a sign of "moral decay" Washington’s decision to use frozen Afghan assets to compensate the claimants of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban’s designated representative to the United Nations, called for the entire amount to be unfrozen and kept under control of the Afghan Central Bank.

"The reserve is the property of the Afghanistan Bank and by extension, the property of the people of Afghanistan. We want the unfreezing of the entire amount as a reserve of the Afghanistan Bank," Shaheen added.

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