Asia - Pacific

US urged to return foreign reserves of Afghans devastated by earthquake

China asks if US ‘stands with Afghans, then why not return their foreign reserves of $7 billion’

Riyaz ul Khaliq   | 25.06.2022
US urged to return foreign reserves of Afghans devastated by earthquake Aftermath of earthquake in Afghanistan

ISTANBUL

The devastating earthquake, which has left over 1,100 people dead in Afghanistan, has revived calls for return of Afghan foreign reserves from the US, as the war-torn nation struggles to meet the immediate needs.

Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, led the calls urging Washington to release the frozen assets of Afghanistan which saw the complete withdrawal of US-led foreign forces last August.

“Saw US officials claim that the US ‘stands with the people of Afghanistan’,” tweeted Hua, asking: “Then why not give the $7 billion back to the Afghans?”

A similar demand was made by many netizens on social media.

A deadly overnight earthquake of 6.1 magnitude has left 1,150 people dead since Tuesday, while over 1,600 others have been wounded in the country’s east.

Some 1,800 houses have collapsed, he added.

According to estimates by the EU commissioner for crisis management, around 270,000 people living in the affected areas will require assistance.

However, the interim Taliban administration has been grappling with empty coffers since its return to power after meltdown of US-backed Kabul administration last August.

Unlock Afghan reserves, lift sanctions

While the Taliban have announced an aid package of 1 billion Afghanis (over $11 million) for the victims, the Afghan officials have made appeal for contributions from other nations and international partners.

The announcement comes as Afghanistan faces a deficit of nearly $500 million in the Taliban’s first budget for the current fiscal announced in May. The interim government announced to spend around $2.6 billion, whole money to be generated locally, unlike during war days when the Kabul administration mostly ran on foreign aid.

“We call on natural disaster management agencies and the international community to provide immediate and comprehensive aid to the Afghan people on the basis of humanitarianism so that the victims are able to rebuild their livelihoods financially,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, an Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

The call comes as Washington withholds around $7 billion in Afghan reserves. The Joe Biden administration, since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year-old war, has decided to divide the money among victims of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and return only half of the total reserves to Kabul – a move disliked by many.

Beijing had called the US decision “robbery.”

The US State Department said Washington “stands with the people of Afghanistan and will continue to lead the international community in responding to their humanitarian needs.”

Afghanistan was already facing a dire humanitarian situation due to decades-long war.

In view of the dire situation created by floods and earthquake which has triggered a critical need for humanitarian assistance, Qahar said the interim Taliban administration “again urges the US to remove sanctions on the Afghan banking system so that the humanitarian aid delivery process is expedited and made easier.

“And similarly, that the Afghan bank reserves are unfrozen,” he said, pointing to $7 billion frozen foreign reserves.

- Several nations rush emergency aid to Afghanistan

Pakistan, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, and India have sent emergency aid to the country. In contrast, self-ruled Taiwan has pledged to donate $1 million to the victims of the earthquake.

Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also spoke to acting Afghan Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, assuring him of Islamabad's continued support.

It was also Akhund’s first call with any head of government from other country since the Taliban returned to power.

Non-governmental organizations from Türkiye were among the first responders to the devastating situation in the aftermath of the powerful earthquake.

EU commissioner Janez Lenarcic said the group has mobilized an initial €1 million ($1.05 million) in emergency support to Afghanistan.

Beijing-shipped food has arrived in Afghanistan and is being distributed, the country’s Foreign Ministry said.

UNICEF said it is continuing to bring critical aid to families affected by the earthquake.

“Today @UNICEF brought dozens of blankets and warm clothes, kitchen equipment, 100s of bars of soap, buckets for water storage, and tarpaulin for shelter,” the UN body said on Twitter.

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