Afghanistan “Hanging By A Thread” Says UN Security General

This week, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Security Council that Afghanistan is “hanging by a thread.” As the world’s attention turns away from Afghanistan and towards budding tension on the Ukrainian-Russian border, Guterres calls for help to aid the citizens of the Taliban-ruled nation. On Wednesday, he urged all countries to suspend sanctions and authorize all transactions necessary to expedite humanitarian aid, reports Reuters. Guterres additionally pressed nations to temporarily disregard any rules or conditions that may inhibit deliverance of aid to the millions of Afghan civilians currently suffering from starvation and the collapse of major infrastructure including schools and social services.

“We need to suspend the rules and conditions that constrict not only Afghanistan’s economy, but our life saving operations. At this moment of maximum need, these rules must be seriously reviewed,” Guterres said, adding that financial institutions and commercial partners require legal assurance that they can cooperate with the U.N. and other aid groups without fear of violating sanctions.

According to Reuters, Afghan central bank reserves, amounting to about $9.5 million, have been blocked internationally, and foreign development support has ceased since the Taliban took power in August. Although the Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund (which is managed by the World Bank) transferred $280 million to the World Food Program and UNICEF to support nutrition and welfare in Afghanistan, Guterres said that the remaining funds in the trust need to be made accessible immediately. 

“We need the remaining $1.2 billion to be freed up urgently, to help Afghanistan’s people survive the winter,” Guterres added. “Time is of the essence.” Earlier this month, the U.N. applied for $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan. But, Guterres said this week that $4.4 billion will not suffice. Now, the U.N. is asking for an additional $3.6 billion to alleviate strained necessities like health, education, basic infrastructure, and the promotion of social equity. 

The United Nations has promised to work with cooperating nations to ensure that funds are not redirected or misused by the Taliban. Despite this promise, UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons said this week that there is still substantial reluctance among donors to free up frozen funds. “It is clear that donors, who face their own domestic constituencies, are still not satisfied with the political progress in Afghanistan and are watching closely for encouraging signals,” said Lyons. 

Amidst the struggle to secure financial support for Afghan civilians, Russia and China have criticized the U.S. for unilateral sanctions and frozen Afghan assets. China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, argued that unilateral sanctions not only constrict Afghan financial assets, but also constrict the ability for civilians to survive. “The unilateral sanctions are no less lethal than military intervention,” Zhang Jun said. 

In response, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield stated that the U.S. had taken action to ensure that the nation’s sanctions did not impede humanitarian aid, and is further examining options to increase liquidity of assets. Thomas-Greenfield added that “ultimately, a functioning Afghan economy will require an independent and technically competent central bank that meets international banking standards.”

While Thomas-Greenfield may be right in her evaluation of Afghanistan’s ultimate success, as the nation transitions to Taliban rule, it is essential that civilian health and wellbeing remain the top priority of all invested parties. Therefore, any and all available funds must be freed up for humanitarian aid under the direct supervision of the UN, UNICEF, and the World Food Program.