Looting central bank is crushing innocent lives

KABUL (Agencies): You have money in the bank, but the banks have no cash. Paychecks are worthless. Businesses are closed. Prices have skyrocketed. Healthcare and other services are broken, government is in tatters under an oppressive regime. Goods cannot be imported. Food is scarce. It’s a harsh winter and what possessions you have not sold, you may have to burn to keep your family warm.
There is nothing to eat: Most of your family’s crop failed last year, your livestock are gone. And now your child, a toddler, is sick. There is nowhere to take her. You are among 23 million people unable to eat every day in your country, and this year you may join the nine million people facing outright famine.
Where is the cash? A foreign superpower, with massive wealth of its own, has taken it and plans to distribute half to some of its own people while your family starves in front of you. The cruelty of this policy is incomprehensible and obscured by the bureaucratic language of executive orders. Yet this is current U.S. policy toward Afghanistan.
President Joe Biden, who promised to end America’s “forever wars,” seemed to take a courageous step by withdrawing from our 20-year “engagement” in Afghanistan six months ago. Yet he hasn’t: The administration is now waging economic warfare instead, first by seizing $7 billion from that country’s central bank and now pledging to spend half of it on humanitarian assistance while holding the other half for potential legal settlements with families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
It’s not a bomb, it’s not a missile from an F-35, yet the impact is devastating and indifferent to innocent life. It destroys not only bodies but the very ground on which civil society and regional stability might sit. An attempt to build on this wreckage would be highly dependent on grants, loans and imports from wealthier nations, and that arrangement is no accident. That was the predicament of the U.S.-backed wartime government, heavily dependent on foreign aid. As that government and its security forces collapsed, the previous despotic rulers, the Taliban, resumed their position as the de facto power.
That’s unlucky for anyone trying to stay alive in Afghanistan, since the Taliban are a designated terrorist organization targeted by economic sanctions dating back to their previous rule. Moreover, the U.S. is unable or unwilling to explain whether these old sanctions apply to any Taliban regime or individuals previously named. While the U.S. has granted leave for some aid agencies to conduct business there (and boasts about its own donations toward humanitarian relief), some agencies have refrained for fear of violating the sanctions, intensifying their chilling effect.
Those who are there are sharing horrific stories, if we would pay attention. The U.N. is passing the hat, hoping to raise more than $5 billion to help the Afghan people — and you, too, can donate any of your spare change to NGOs working there. But as of Feb. 11, the U.S. policy is earmarking half of the money it looted from Afghanistan to compensate American plaintiffs who won a legal judgement against the Taliban for harboring terrorists. (They were not implicated in the 9/11 attack itself) The White House announcement conceded that the administration understood Afghanistan’s economy was “on the brink” even before the Taliban resumed control and bound to worsen under them. Yet it proceeded with a morally indefensible act that will crush the country’s central bank and millions of human beings who are not culpable for the actions of al Qaeda more than 20 years ago.