The Biden administration is lifting some restrictions on the types of aid that humanitarian organizations can provide to Afghanistan which will enable support for educational programs, including paying teachers’ salaries, the Treasury Department and two senior administration officials announced on Wednesday.
This move comes as the Biden administration has faced mounting pressure to ease the restrictions on support flowing into Afghanistan from lawmakers and aid organizations in recent weeks, particularly given the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in the country.
The Treasury Department is now moving to expand the definition of humanitarian aid after conversations with many humanitarian organizations, the administration officials said.
“Unfortunately, the economy faces grave challenges, exacerbated by the country’s long dependence on foreign aid, donor and private sector flight sparked by the Taliban’s takeover, drought, structural macroeconomic issues, and the Covid-19 pandemic,” Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo said. “Treasury has provided broad authorizations that ensure NGOs, international organizations, and the U.S. government can continue to provide relief to those in need.”
The US will also provide Afghanistan with 1 million additional Covid-19 vaccine doses in the coming weeks through COVAX, the officials said.
The Treasury Department earlier this year issued licenses that eased sanctions to allow financial support for necessities such as food and medicine, as well as remittances to non-sanctioned individuals in Afghanistan.
While the moves this week will enable broader humanitarian support to the Afghan people, the Taliban’s actions remain a major impediment to providing more widespread support to the country. That is a problem only the Taliban can solve through their actions, one of the senior administration officials explained.
The Taliban and the Haqqani network remain sanctioned as a US specially designated terrorist group, but the changes put in place on Wednesday are an effort to make it easier to get humanitarian assistance to the country.
Earlier this month, the International Rescue Committee ranked Afghanistan No. 1 on its annual emergency watchlist of countries whose humanitarian crises are expected to deteriorate in 2022.
The steps to clarify sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid are likely to be welcomed by lawmakers who have been urging the administration to make changes.
“We have no desire to help the Taliban government and believe that there is an approach that the US can take to help prevent a catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy while not providing legitimacy to the Taliban,” wrote a group of lawmakers to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week.
Lawmakers also asked for action that goes further than what Treasury announced on Wednesday, such as assisting multilateral organizations seeking to pay Afghan civil servants and allowing financial institutions to inject capital into the Afghan economy.
While the moves from the Treasury department do not enable support for any other civil servants in Afghanistan beyond teachers, there is planning underway at the United Nations to support those civil servants, the senior administration officials said.
The crisis in Afghanistan — prompted by the US withdrawal and the Taliban takeover of the country — is a central concern for the Biden administration.
Blinken said this week that the administration is looking at many options to support the Afghan economy without benefiting the Taliban.
“We are looking intensely at ways to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy, to get more money into people’s pockets, and doing that with international institutions, with other countries and partners, trying to put in place the right mechanisms to do that in a way that doesn’t directly benefit the Taliban but does go directly to the people,” Blinken said during a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re very conscious of the fact that there is an incredibly difficult humanitarian situation right now, one that could get worse as winter sets in.”
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