As the people of Afghanistan face increasing impoverishment and hardship exacerbated by a U.S.-led block on billions of dollars in Afghan assets, hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital Kabul in late December to demand that foreign governments and financial institutions release the frozen funds.
Carrying banners reading, “Let us eat” and “Give us our money,” protesters decried financial restrictions imposed upon Afghanistan by nations—including the freezing of over $9 billion in Afghan assets by mostly American banks—following the Taliban’s reconquest of the country after two decades of U.S.-led war and occupation.
“Such economic pressures on Afghanistan are against international principles. Our people are struggling with economic problems here,” one protester told TOLO News.
Another demonstrator told the Afghan outlet that “Afghanistan’s frozen money should be freed soon. This is not how to promote others’ welfare.”
Yet another participant asserted that “this money belongs to the people and should be freed.”
According to the Associated Press:
The lack of funding has battered Afghanistan’s already troubled economy, leading to increasing poverty while aid groups warn of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. State employees, from doctors to teachers and administrative civil servants, haven’t been paid in months. Banks, meanwhile, have restricted how much money account holders can withdraw.
No country has yet officially recognized the country’s new Taliban rulers due to the armed group’s previous track record. The Taliban’s previous regime 20 years ago banned women and girls from education and public life, mandated beards for men and attendance at prayers, banned sports and entertainment, and carried out public executions.
Unlike other recent protests in Afghanistan—including a women’s rights demonstration last week at which foreign journalists were reportedly attacked—the Taliban promoted, praised, and provided security for the event, according to Hesamuddin Hesam, an Afghan journalist who is a correspondent for Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur.
The December protest occurred a day after 46 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives warned President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that the asset freeze and economic sanctions placed Afghanistan at risk of “humanitarian collapse.”
“We fear, as aid groups do, that maintaining this policy could cause more civilian deaths in the coming year than were lost in 20 years of war,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.
On Dec. 22, the U.S. Treasury Department took a series of steps to enable the flow of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, issuing three general licenses allowing financial transactions involving the Taliban and the Afghan militant group Haqqani Network if the money is used to meet certain basic societal needs.
Kay Guinane, founder and senior adviser at the U.S.-based Charity & Security Network, said in a statement that the licenses “represent important progress in protecting the lifesaving work of civil society groups in Afghanistan.”
“Ultimately, no amount of licensing can resolve this crisis,” Ms. Guinane added. “Wherever sanctions exist, banks have been hesitant to provide financial services to nonprofits, even when those transactions are perfectly legal. Taking more proactive steps to reassure banks is one step Treasury can take to address this issue.”
At a special meeting of the 54-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad, Pakistan in mid-December, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the U.S. “must de-link the Taliban government from 40 million Afghan citizens, even if they [have] been in conflict with Taliban for 20 years.”