President Joe Biden signed an executive order last Friday that jumpstarts the process of giving a portion of the frozen US-based assets belonging to Afghanistan for the benefit of the Afghan people as well as giving the other half to US victims of terrorism, specifically the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.

In a statement released by the White House, it stipulated that the US government had the intentions to access and transfer $3.5 billion of the assets of Afghanistan’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Central Bank (DAB), held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York for aid and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan whose citizens are currently experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history.

As the Taliban took over the country after the disastrous US withdrawal in August, millions of Afghans are now facing starvation, with 50% of the population in extreme poverty. The remaining population is predicted to be living in poverty by mid-2022. The Taliban take over also made its economy fragile and weak, with a contraction of 30% compared to levels before the forced takeover. The Council on Foreign Relations reported that only 2% of Afghans have enough food, with 3 million children suffering from malnutrition and plagued by a collapsing healthcare system that largely depended on foreign aid. Public executions and the decline of human rights in the country have also negatively affected the quality of life for the majority of the Afghan population.

A malnourished Afghan child is treated at a hospital in Kandahar (AFP via Asia Times). Source:
A malnourished Afghan child is treated at a hospital in Kandahar (AFP/Murteza Khaliqi /Anadolu Agency via Asia Times).

At the moment, no transfer of funds will take place, nor will the money be immediately released as a New York federal court would have to allow the transfer. If the transfer is successful and authorized and approved by a New York federal court, $3.5 billion of the total $9 billion frozen Afghan funds ($7 billion of which is located at the Federal Reserve), it will no doubt be beneficial to the people of Afghanistan who are dying of hunger every day. However, this move may ultimately backfire as it may help the Taliban consolidate power.

“Any expanded assistance to Afghanistan risks the charge that it is consolidating the Taliban in power and weakening leverage to influence their behavior,” said former US Ambassador to Afghanistan P. Michael McKinley.

The other half of the $7 billion frozen Afghan funds will be appropriated for American citizens who have been victims of terrorist attacks, one of those being the 9/11 attacks in 2001. While a human life cannot be quantified by mere money, these funds can be distributed to victims’ families for monetary compensation for their loss. Similarly, a New York Federal Court would have to approve the transfer as the Afghan assets are still frozen.

“We have $7 billion of assets in the United States owned by a country where there is no government that we recognize….We are acting responsibly to ensure a portion of that money can be used to benefit people of that country,” said Jack Quinn in an interview with Defense One.

On the other hand, Taliban spokesperson Mohammad Naeem condemned the intended diversion of funds as the U.S. “stealing” the money stating, “Stealing the blocked funds of Afghan nation by the United States of America and its seizure [of those funds] shows the lowest level of humanity … of a country and a nation.”

There is a fair argument that the money held in the U.S. Federal Reserve belongs to U.S. taxpayers anyway. According to the White House website, “Since 2002, the United States has provided nearly $88 billion in security assistance, $36 billion in civilian assistance, including $787 million specifically intended to support Afghan women and girls, and nearly $3.9 billion in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.”

Mohammad Naeem also tweeted an Open Letter to President Joe Biden, stating that the 9/11 attacks were not carried out by Afghans and pointed out that Osama Bin Laden (originally from Saudi Arabia) had lived in Pakistan military custody for ten years. He further added that their nation had stood side-by-side with the United States with its War on Terror, where thousands of Afghans were killed.

The Pakistani government had also questioned the decision of President Biden to set aside half of the Afghan assets to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, stating that the utilization of Afghanistan’s assets should be its own sovereign decision. It went on to call for the release of the frozen funds back to the Taliban-controlled government.

The public has voiced its concerns and thoughts on the matter on social media, leaving them divided on the topic. Some say that the Afghan people did not commit 9/11; thus, they do not have to pay a portion of their money to victims of the terrorist attack. Some also believe that the 9/11 victims are well-deserving of the money as they have been victimized by terrorists.

Regardless, if the United States does give back Afghan funds worth $3.5 billion to Afghanistan or not, the US remains the largest donor of humanitarian aid to said country, providing nearly $475 million in humanitarian assistance in 2021. These donations are routed through independent humanitarian organizations that provide food, water, and healthcare in Afghanistan. The US had also donated 1 million additional COVID-19 vaccines just recently to the Taliban-controlled country, bringing the US’ total donation at 4.3 million doses.