US President Joe Biden on Friday signed an Executive Order to free up half of the $7 billion assets of Afghanistan’s central bank frozen in the United States. White House said the order was signed to address the humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan.
According to the order, the US will facilitate access to $3.5 billion of those assets for the benefit of the people of Afghanistan. “This is one step forward in the United States’ effort to authorize the transfer of a significant portion of the funds to meet the needs of the Afghan people.,” the White House said in a press release.
The White House said the Executive Order provides a path for the funds to reach directly to the people of Afghanistan and prevent the Islamic Emirate of accessing to the funds.
Although $3.5 billion is set to be released, half of the money is remaining in the US and is likely to be given to the victims of the ‘terrorism’ including the relatives of victims of the 9/11 attacks who have brought claims against the Islamic Emirate. “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 US victims of terrorism. Plaintiffs will have a full opportunity to have their claims heard in court,” the White House said.
Meanwhile, the US special envoy for Afghanistan Thomas West also said on Friday that addressing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan requires a global response. The “order is part of an effort to preserve a substantial portion of Afghanistan’s reserves to support the needs of the Afghan people,” he said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, also referring to the Executive Order, tweeted that it was signed to support the people of Afghanistan amid a humanitarian crisis. “The President today signed an Executive Order as part of an effort to set aside $3.5 billion US-based Afghan central bank assets for the benefit the Afghan people. The United States stands with the people of Afghanistan.”
Following the fall of the former government of Afghanistan in mid-August last year, over $9 billion of assets of Afghanistan’s central bank was frozen, of which around $7 billion are in the United States. As Afghanistan is struggling with a looming humanitarian crisis, the Islamic Emirate and several international organizations repeatedly called on the US government to release the funds.
Directing half of the funds to the victims of the 9/11 attacks was met with criticism inside and outside Afghanistan.
Mohammad Naeem, a spokesman of the Islamic Emirate’s political office, on Friday evening reacted to Biden’s decision saying it was "stealing" the money of the people of Afghanistan and the decision shows a "moral decline" of a country. “Defeat and victory are common in human history and life, but the greatest and most shameful defeat is the combination of military and moral defeat,” he tweeted.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) also said legally the money belongs to the people of Afghanistan and it should be given to them. HRW’s Asia advocacy director John Sifton said if the decision is implemented, it would create a "problematic precedent" for commandeering sovereign wealth.
“Directing $3.5 billion to humanitarian assistance for Afghans may sound generous, but it should be remembered that the entire $7 billion already legally belonged to the Afghan people. And yet, even if the US gave it to a humanitarian trust fund, current restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking sector make it virtually impossible to send or spend the money inside the country,” he said on Friday.