On Saturday, demonstrators in Kabul condemned President Joe Biden’s order freeing up around €3.1 billion in Afghan assets held in the US for families of America’s 9/11 victims — saying the money belongs to Afghans.
Protesters who gathered outside the Afghan capitol’s grand Eid Gah mosque asked the US for financial compensation for the tens of thousands of Afghans killed during the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan.
Biden’s order, signed Friday, allocates another €3.1 billion ($3.5bn) in Afghan assets for humanitarian aid to a trust fund managed by the UN to assist Afghans, splitting the US-based holdings in half.
The country’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into Afghanistan with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban.
At the same time, Afghanistan is in the throes of mass famine.
Overall, almost 24 million people in Afghanistan suffer from acute hunger — or 60% of the population.
A severe drought is one cause, but also, more and more people simply cannot afford to buy food.
Torek Farhadi, a financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, questioned the UN managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. He said those funds are not meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment”.
He also questioned the legality of Biden’s order.
“These reserves belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban […] Biden’s decision is one-sided and does not match with international law,” said Farhadi. “No other country on Earth makes such confiscation decisions about another country’s reserves.”
Afghanistan has about €8 billion in assets overseas, including the €6.2 billion in the US. The rest is mainly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates and Switzerland.
“What about our Afghan people who gave many sacrifices and thousands of losses of lives?” asked the demonstration’s organiser, Abdul Rahman, a civil society activist.
Rahman said he planned to organise more demonstrations across the capital to protest Biden’s order.
“This money belongs to the people of Afghanistan, not to the United States. This is the right of Afghans,” he said.
Placards carried by the protestors accused the US of being cruel and stealing Afghans’ money.
In a tweet late Friday, Taliban political spokesman Mohammad Naeem accused the Biden administration of showing “the lowest level of humanity […] of a country and a nation”.
Biden’s Friday order generated a social media storm with Twitter saying #USA_stole_money_from_afghan was trending among Afghans. Tweets repeatedly pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, not Afghans.
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was brought to Afghanistan by Afghan warlords after being expelled from Sudan in 1996.
The same warlords later allied with the US-led coalition to oust the Taliban in 2001.
However, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar refused to hand over bin Laden to the US after the devastating 9/11 attacks that killed thousands.
Still, some analysts took to Twitter to question Biden’s order.
Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center, called Biden’s order to divert €3.1 billion away from Afghanistan “heartless”.
“It’s great that $3.5bn in new humanitarian aid for Afghanistan has been freed up. But to take another $3.5bn that belongs to the Afghan people, and divert it elsewhere — that is misguided and quite frankly heartless,” he tweeted.
Kugelman also said the opposition to Biden’s order crossed Afghanistan’s vast political divide.
“I can’t remember the last time so many people of such vastly different worldviews were so united over a US policy decision on Afghanistan,” he tweeted.