Afghanistan’s former president, Hamid Karzai, joined the Taliban rulers Sunday in urging the United States to review its decision to allow half of the roughly $7 billion in his country’s foreign frozen assets to be reserved for families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
“The people of Afghanistan share the pain of the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in the tragedy of September 11. We commiserate with them,” Karzai told a news conference in Kabul.
However, the “Afghan people are as much victims as those families who lost their lives,” Karzai said. “Withholding money or seizing money from the people of Afghanistan in that name is unjust and unfair and an atrocity against the Afghan people.”
Da Afghanistan Bank, that country’s central bank, had funds on deposit at the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The money has been frozen since August, when the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed and the Taliban seized control of the country.
Critics say the U.S. freezing of Afghan funds has worsened an already bad humanitarian situation in the conflict-torn country and pushed its foreign-aid dependent economy to the brink of collapse.
On Friday, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order calling on banks to set aside $3.5 billion of the frozen assets in a trust fund slated for humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. The remaining funds, $3.5 billion, would stay in the United States to finance payments from lawsuits by U.S. victims of terrorism that are still working their way through the courts.
“I ask the U.S. courts to do the opposite, to return the Afghan money back to the Afghan people. This money does not belong to any government. Much of this money was collected during my time in office. This is the property of the Afghan people,” Karzai said.
Karzai served as president for 13 years starting December 2001, shortly after the U.S.-led foreign military invasion ousted the then-Taliban government from power for harboring al-Qaida planners of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.
Washington and the global community at large have not recognized the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have said Biden’s executive order also “is designed to provide a path for the funds to reach the people of Afghanistan, while keeping them out of the hands of the Taliban’s malicious actors.”
Taliban authorities condemned the unilateral U.S. move, saying it “shows the lowest level of morality and humanity of a country and a nation.”
Suhail Shaheen, the Taliban permanent representative-designate to the United Nations, on Sunday reiterated his government’s call for Washington to release the Afghan funds, saying using them for any other purpose was unacceptable.
“It is only used for implementation of monetary policy, facilitation of trade and boosting financial system of the country,” Shaheen argued.
“It is never intended to be used for any other purpose rather than that. Its freezing or disbursement unilaterally for any other purpose is injustice and not acceptable to the people of Afghanistan,” the senior Taliban official wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi traveled to Doha on Sunday for meetings with representatives of European Union, Gulf countries, and foreign diplomatic missions to Afghanistan operating out of the capital of Qatar after the fall of Kabul to the Islamist group last summer. Taliban sources said Muttaqi would also raise in the meetings Biden’s controversial order on frozen Afghan funds.
Protesters gathered in the Afghan capital Saturday, asking for financial compensation for the tens of thousands of Afghans killed during the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
The U.S. withdrawal last August ended the nearly 20-year war. but United Nations and other international relief groups say Afghanistan faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, which stems from more than four decades of conflict and natural calamities.
More than half of the country’s poverty-stricken population, or an estimated 24 million Afghans, face an acute food shortage and some one million children under age 5 could die from hunger by the end of this year, according to U.N. estimates following the U.S. withdrawal from the country.