Half of the frozen Afghan funds will be used to help the Afghans. Rest can go to 9/11 families: NPR
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last year, the US Treasury Department froze Afghan government funds that were being held here in the United States. We’re talking about $7 billion. Now the Biden administration has decided what it will do with the money. The president signed an executive order to set aside half of the money for humanitarian aid to Afghans. The other half could go to the families of the victims of the September 11 attacks.
NPR’s Michele Kelemen is here with the details. Hi Michele.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hello, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Explain what the Biden administration is trying to accomplish here.
KELEMEN: Well, they seem to be trying to find some sort of compromise. You know, the families of the 9/11 victims filed a complaint against the Taliban, and they searched for those frozen funds. So what Biden did with the executive order is he set aside $3.5 billion — that’s billions with a B — so that if the courts rule in favor of these families, this money will be available to them.
The remaining $3.5 billion will be used to help Afghans, although officials say it will – you know, they’ll make sure the money doesn’t benefit the Taliban in any way. It will likely be channeled through international aid organizations. And of course, all of this is going to take time to set up.
SHAPIRO: And unsurprisingly, the Taliban are against this plan, but what else do you hear?
KELEMEN: Well, I also hear a lot of concern from aid groups and other Afghan observers who point out that it was not Taliban money. We are talking about the reserves of the central bank of Afghanistan, so the United States is bankrupting the central bank of the country.
So says Graeme Smith. He is an analyst at the International Crisis Group. And he told me today that Afghanistan needs a central bank that works. It needs reserves to do the kinds of things a central bank normally does, like stabilizing the country’s currency.
GRAEME SMITH: And also to make sure there’s enough US cash in the country for the import deals to take place – and I know that sounds like an abstract thing. Who really cares about the economy in Afghanistan? But it is a matter of life or death for Afghans. Most of the country’s food is imported. Food, medicine, other vital supplies – it all crosses borders.
KELEMEN: And if local traders need dollars for these business transactions, if you deprive Afghans of dollars, he says, you’re going to make a lot of people hungry.
SHAPIRO: Michele, how dire is the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan right now?
KELEMEN: Very serious, I would say. I mean, you know, it was already a very poor country and almost entirely dependent on donor funds. Today, doctors, teachers and civil servants are not being paid because much of these donor funds have been frozen. Afghanistan is facing a drought, the coronavirus pandemic and this liquidity crisis that we are talking about.
You know, David Miliband, who heads the aid group called the International Rescue Committee – he’s also a former British Foreign Secretary. He painted a very bleak picture of the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan during a hearing on Capitol Hill this week. Listen to what he had to say.
(SOUND EXCERPT FROM AN ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAVID MILIBAND: The testimony of my own staff is that the media reports of young girls being sold into marriage are true, the media reports of people being forced to sell their organs for food are also true.
KELEMEN: He says that food aid will not be enough to solve this crisis. Policy makers really need to find a way to revive the Afghan economy.
SHAPIRO: NPR’s Michele Kelemen, thank you.
Kelemen: Thank you.
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