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US must ‘respond positively’ to UN call to release Afghan funds: Taliban

The photo, taken on October 15, 2021, shows a child standing on a dry land in Bala Murghab district of Afghanistan's western province of Badghis. (File by AFP)

The Taliban government has called on the United States to release billions of dollars of Afghanistan’s frozen assets to avoid a worsening humanitarian crisis after the 20-year invasion of the war-ravaged country by US-led forces.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid made the call on Friday, a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Washington to take the lead and prevent "the nightmare unfolding in Afghanistan" by releasing billions of dollars in Afghan assets blocked in the United States.

“We commend the United Nations Secretary-General's call for the release of Afghan capital from the United States. The United States must respond positively to the international voice and release Afghan capital,” Mujahid said in a post on Twitter.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has frozen nearly $9.5 billion in assets belonging to the Afghan central bank since the withdrawal of its occupation forces from the country in August 2021. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have suspended activities in Afghanistan, withholding aid as well as $340 million in new reserves issued by the IMF in August.

Many of the US allies and Western governments have also largely suspended their financial assistance to Afghanistan since the US troops’ withdrawal and the Taliban taking power. Aid agencies and the UN have estimated that more than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million population is expected to face hunger this winter.

"We must... rapidly inject liquidity into the economy and avoid a meltdown that would lead to poverty, hunger and destitution for millions," Guterres told reporters in New York, adding that the UN needs $5 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 2022.

Almost five months after the US-led international coalition hastily abandoned the South Asian country, millions of Afghans are on the brink of starvation, with no food and no money. UN aid agencies have described the country’s situation as one of the world’s most rapidly growing humanitarian crises. According to the UN humanitarian coordination office, half the population is now battling acute hunger, and over nine million people have been displaced.

The Taliban’s return to power came as the US was in the middle of a chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The group announced the formation of a caretaker government on September 7, but their efforts to stabilize the situation have so far been undermined by international sanctions, as banks are running out of cash and civil servants are going unpaid.

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