United States Makes Controversial Decision To Split Frozen Afghanistan Funds

President Joe Biden announced on Friday that the United States would move to split billions of dollars in frozen Afghan assets between humanitarian aid and paying out legal claims against the Taliban by families of 9/11 victims.

The President advised that three and a half billion dollars would go towards humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan while the remaining three and a half billion would go towards families of 9/11 victims, pending a judicial decision. A spokesperson for the government also announced that even if the legal claims were not successful, the funds would remain in the United States for ongoing litigation by other victims.

This comes after the United States froze seven billion dollars in former Afghan government assets following their military withdrawal and the capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban in August last year. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has faced a myriad of problems, including drought, famine, coronavirus and economic collapse that is devastating the long suffering country. This is in large part due to poor governance by the Taliban and the withdrawal of foreign aid and assistance in which the country has been so reliant in feeding the population, paying its workers and propping up the economy.

However, the move has been criticized by Afghan advocates and academics. Foreign Policy reports that Haroun Rahmini, an assistant professor of law at the American University of Afghanistan, has stated that “this is the worst thing he could do right now” in response to President Biden’s decision. Additionally, “it makes sure the Afghan economy has no chance of stabilizing, meaning its people will have to rely on the disappearing goodwill of the international community to feed themselves.”

Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan-American activist, was also critical of the decision and told Al Jazeera that “the people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11; that is an undeniable fact,” and “what Biden is proposing is not justice for 9/11 families, it is theft of public funds from an impoverished nation already on the brink of famine and starvation brought on by the United States’ disastrous withdrawal.”

The United Nations reports that Afghanistan is currently facing one of the worlds worst humanitarian disasters, with more than half the population facing acute hunger, millions of people displaced and a collapsing health system. The United Nations has estimated that 97 per cent of Afghans could fall into poverty this year and that women and girls and minorities in particular are facing an increasingly desperate situation.

Substantial emergency aid money has been funneled through the United Nations and international aid agencies to help the country’s most vulnerable. However, the U.S. cannot continue to hold these frozen assets that belong to the people of Afghanistan as a form of communal punishment in response to the Taliban takeover. The U.S. and international community more broadly, are within their rights in refusing to recognize the Taliban as legitimate rulers of Afghanistan. However, they still have a moral obligation to the Afghan people to provide whatever assistance necessary to rebuild the country and to keep the population fed, clothed and safe.

The past twenty years have shown that substantial gains can be made in development, healthcare, education and infrastructure within Afghanistan. This can continue if the international community makes the Afghan people a priority and provides the necessary support for meaningful change to occur. It would do well for the U.S. to keep this in mind when holding vitally needed funds from the people of Afghanistan who require urgent support at a time when they are at their most vulnerable.