News ID: 99970
Publish Date : 12 February 2022 - 21:52
Biden Decides to Seize $7bn of Afghan Assets:

KABUL (Dispatches) --
President Joe Biden’s decision to effectively seize the Afghan central bank’s funds in the United States and repurpose half of the money as compensation to the alleged victims of the 9/11 attacks has drawn rebuke and accusations of “theft” against Washington.
Biden issued an executive order on Friday that would split $7.1 billion belonging to Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) “almost evenly between humanitarian assistance to the struggling country and funds to cover judgments from lawsuits that 9/11 victims and their families had filed against the Taliban in U.S. courts”.
“The people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11; that is an undeniable fact,” Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan-American activist, told Al Jazeera.
“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 U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed in August of last year, with the Taliban capturing Kabul amid the pullout of U.S. troops from the country after a 20-year occupation.
Washington, which had negotiated its withdrawal with the Taliban, quickly moved to freeze DAB’s U.S.-based assets. The 9/11 victims’ families then sought the money through the courts. One particular case that had obtained a default judgment against the Taliban in 2012 became central in that effort.
Halema Wali, cofounder of Afghans for a Better Tomorrow, a U.S.-based advocacy group, stressed that the money in the Afghan central bank belongs to the people of Afghanistan, who are experiencing a dire humanitarian crisis.
With skyrocketing inflation and the state institutions in shambles, the Afghan economy – which has depended on foreign aid – is all but falling apart. The UN World Food Programme has warned that 23 million people are facing “severe hunger” in the country.
“It’s absolutely egregious,” Wali told Al Jazeera of Biden’s move. “This is equivalent to essentially saying the central bank of Afghanistan can’t function, but we’re going to set aside some money for a little bit of food for a starving population. I think overall, it’s very short-sighted.”
It remains unclear how that money would be dispensed with several lawsuits making claims to the funds. Plaintiffs may also reject Biden’s decision and seek the entire sum, and courts would have to decide on the outcome, which would be subject to appeal.
Still, the White House suggested that regardless of what happens in the courts, at least $3.5 billion will be set aside for 9/11 victims’ families.
“Even if funds are transferred for the benefit of the Afghan people, more than $3.5 billion in DAB assets would remain in the United States and are subject to ongoing litigation by U.S. victims of terrorism,” the White House said.
“Plaintiffs will have a full opportunity to have their claims heard in court.”
But for now, the final word on unfreezing the money for humanitarian aid and compensation to the 9/11 victims remains with the courts.
A senior administration official told reporters early on Friday that it will be months before the money is released for alleged humanitarian relief in Afghanistan.
“Because we have to go through a judicial process here, it is going to be at least a number of months before we can move any of this money, right? So this money isn’t going to be available over the next couple of months regardless – so, regardless of amount, regardless of what we might want to do,” the official told reporters.
Another issue that adds to the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the funds is that Washington does not recognize the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.
“There’s a legitimate question to be asked as to how a country’s sovereign wealth can be used to satisfy the debt of an entity that is not recognized as the sovereign government,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Speaking during an HRW question-and-answer session on Twitter, Sifton raised concern over Biden’s decision.
“The Biden administration’s decision creates a highly problematic precedent for a policy of essentially commandeering a country’s sovereign wealth and utilizing it for things that are not what the people of Afghanistan necessarily want it to be used for,” he said.
The Afghan-American Foundation, an advocacy group, said Biden’s move will “exacerbate the suffering” of the people of Afghanistan.
“The funds at issue belong to the people of Afghanistan, not any government or entity, past or present – that is not a policy position, it is a fact,” the group said in a statement.
The Taliban, which had been calling for unfreezing the funds, slammed the U.S. decision on Friday.
“The theft and seizure of money held/frozen by the United States of the Afghan people represents the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation,” Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem said on Twitter.
Beyond the immediate value of the money, advocates have sounded the alarm about the message that Biden’s decision sends on the viability of banking in Afghanistan.
In another sign of the desperate humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, the World Health Organization said on Friday that a raging measles outbreak had infected tens of thousands and killed more than 150 people last month alone.
The UN health agency said the outbreak was particularly concerning since Afghanistan is facing massive food insecurity and malnutrition, leaving children far more vulnerable to the highly contagious disease.
“Measles cases have been increasing in all provinces since the end of July 2021,” a WHO spokesman, Christian Lindmeier, told reporters in Geneva.
He said cases had surged recently, ballooning by 18% in the week of 24 January and by 40% in the last week of the month.
In all, 35,319 suspected measles cases were reported in January, including 3,000 that were laboratory confirmed, and 156 deaths. Ninety-one percent of the cases and 97% of the deaths were children under the age of five.
Lindmeier stressed that the measles-related deaths were probably underreported and the numbers were expected to swell. “The rapid rise in cases in January suggests that the number of deaths due to measles is likely to increase sharply in the coming weeks,” Lindmeier said.

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