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US dismisses possibility of unfreezing Afghanistan’s assets

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Afghans carry sacks of food grains distributed as an aid by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Kandahar on October 19, 2021. (File photo by AFP)

The United States says it has no plan to unfreeze nearly $10 billion worth of Afghanistan’s assets to help the Taliban administration deal with the humanitarian situation across the crisis-stricken country.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki clarified during a press conference on Wednesday that the administration of President Joe Biden had no plan for the matter.

Psaki claimed that the funds are not released for a number of reasons, such as litigation filed by victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks in US courts. She did not explain how the funds are related to the victims of a terrorist attack more than two decades ago.

Psaki was responding to a public call by Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made earlier to unfreeze the assets. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the deputy prime minister in the Taliban government, has also criticized the world’s silence on the US holding Afghanistan’s assets.

The US had announced the freeze in question days after the Taliban took over power in the country on August 15. Since then, the Taliban have warned of dire economic consequences and Afghan banks say they are facing money shortage. The United Nations also warned in October that without financial aid or humanitarian relief, Afghanistan was on a "countdown to catastrophe."

UN agencies have predicted near universal poverty in Afghanistan, with almost three-fourths of the population reliant on food and other aid.

A spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP) said during a briefing in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday that Afghanistan's fragile economy was on the brink of collapse. According to recent surveys by the WFP, an estimated 98% of Afghans are not eating enough, with seven in 10 families resorting to borrowing food, which pushes them deeper into poverty.

Afghanistan has been teetering on the brink of a major humanitarian catastrophe. The unfolding crisis has also affected the already fragile banking system in the country, especially with billions of dollars in Afghan assets frozen by the US.

The Taliban, who had previously ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, took power again on August 15 as the US was in the middle of a chaotic troop withdrawal. The group announced the formation of a caretaker government on September 7. No country has yet recognized their rule. Since then, the Taliban have been struggling to contain a deepening economic crisis.

The UN says Afghanistan is facing "one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters."

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