‘Just give us our money’: Taliban push to unlock billions of Afghans abroad

  • Afghanistan faces massive famine and money drought
  • Official calls on Europe to release Afghan funds
  • “Freezing this money is unethical,” says finance ministry
  • Taliban will not respect gay rights, ministry spokesman says

FRANKFURT, Oct. 29 (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban government is pushing to release billions of dollars in central bank reserves as the drought-stricken country faces cash crunch, massive famine and new migration crisis.

Afghanistan has deposited billions of dollars in overseas assets with the US Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban toppled the West-backed government in August.

A spokesperson for the finance ministry said the government would respect human rights, including women’s education, as it sought new funds in addition to humanitarian aid which it said only offered ‘a “little relief”.

Under the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, women were largely excluded from paid jobs and education and normally had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative when leaving home.

“The money belongs to the Afghan nation. Just give us our own money,” ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal told Reuters. “Freezing this money is unethical and goes against all international laws and values.”

A senior central bank official called on European countries, including Germany, to release their share of reserves to avoid an economic collapse that could trigger massive migration to Europe.

“The situation is desperate and liquidity is dwindling,” Shah Mehrabi, member of the board of directors of the Afghan Central Bank, told Reuters. “There are enough of them right now (…) to maintain Afghanistan until the end of the year.

“Europe will be the hardest hit if Afghanistan does not have access to this money,” Mehrabi said.

“You will have the double whammy of not being able to find bread and not being able to afford it. People will be desperate. They will go to Europe,” he said.

The cry for help comes as Afghanistan faces the collapse of its fragile economy. The departure of the forces led by the United States and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.

The finance ministry said it has a daily tax levy of around 400 million Afghans ($ 4.4 million).

Although the Western powers want to avert a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognize the Taliban government.

Haqmal said Afghanistan would allow women an education, but not in the same classrooms as men.

Human rights, he said, would be respected but within the framework of Islamic law, which would not include gay rights.

“LGBT … It’s against our Sharia,” he said.

Mehrabi is hoping that even though the United States recently said it won’t release its lion’s share of roughly $ 9 billion in funds, European countries could.

He said Germany had half a billion dollars in Afghan money and that it and other European countries should release those funds.

Mehrabi said Afghanistan needed $ 150 million each month to “prevent a looming crisis” by keeping the local currency and prices stable, adding that any transfer could be monitored by an auditor.

“If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will become scarce, grocery stores will be empty,” Mehrabi said.

He said about $ 431 million of central bank reserves were held by German lender Commerzbank, as well as an additional $ 94 million with Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank.

The Bank for International Settlements, a coordinating group of the world’s central banks in Switzerland, holds an additional $ 660 million. All three declined to comment.

The Taliban regained power in Afghanistan in August after the United States withdrew its troops, nearly 20 years after the Islamists were ousted by US-led forces following the September 11, 2001 attacks on United States.

Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London and James MacKenzie in Islamabad; written by John O’Donnell; Editing by Nick Macfie

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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