House lawmakers call on Biden administration to take steps to avert economic disaster in Afghanistan

House lawmakers call on Biden administration to take steps to avert economic disaster in Afghanistan
Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images

A group of mostly Democratic House members is urging the Biden administration to take steps to avert a looming economic catastrophe in Afghanistan.

The lawmakers, led by Democratic Reps. Jason Crow of Colorado and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, proposed measures to help provide relief in a letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

They wrote: “We have no desire to help the Taliban government and believe that there is an approach that the U.S. can take to help prevent a catastrophic collapse of Afghanistan’s aid-dependent economy while not providing legitimacy to the Taliban.”

The lawmakers advised the administration to release frozen Afghan funds “to an appropriate United Nations agency to pay teacher salaries and provide meals to children in schools, so long as girls can continue to attend,” to clarify sanctions exemptions for humanitarian aid, to “assist multilateral organizations attempting to pay Afghan civil servants,” to allow financial institutions to inject capital into the Afghan economy and to “prepare to rally donors to contribute their fair share” to the upcoming UN appeal for Afghanistan.

“We request that the Treasury and State Department brief us regularly on the strategy regarding Afghanistan and to include oversight mechanisms so we can ensure that the Afghan people are the sole recipients of international aid, not the Taliban,” wrote the roughly three dozen lawmakers.

International humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm that Afghanistan is on the brink of disaster as its economic and medical systems collapse and millions face starvation in the wake of the Taliban takeover of and US withdrawal from the country about four months ago. Billions of dollars from Afghanistan’s central bank reserves, much of which is held in the US, have been frozen since August.

On Wednesday, the International Rescue Committee ranked Afghanistan No. 1, followed by Ethiopia and Yemen, on its annual Emergency Watchlist of countries whose humanitarian crises are expected to deteriorate in 2022.

“On Afghanistan, I would say very clearly, there needs to be much more urgency not just from the United States, but from the global community,” International Rescue Committee President and CEO David Miliband told reporters this week.

“We’ve been party to discussions, both public and private, since late August about the impending economic challenges, and they’re still not properly addressed,” he said.

“I think it’s very important to say that just as a matter of principle, trading off the needs of the Afghan people against the popularity or otherwise of the government is wrong, but in this case, it’s going to be the donor nations who get the blame for what happens,” he added. “And so there’s an instrumental reason as well as a moral reason for far more urgency.”

The US State Department has expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the US provided $474 million in humanitarian assistance to the country in fiscal year 2021.

“We’ve taken other steps that would help facilitate the provision of services and aid to the Afghan people,” Price said this month. “As you know, the Treasury Department has issued licenses to make clear that the United States is not standing in the way of humanitarian assistance and humanitarian aid for the Afghan people. It sends a signal — a very explicit signal — to countries around the world, to NGOs and others that the United States is supportive of aid and services to the Afghan people, who have long been suffering, even prior to the Taliban takeover.”

“We have demonstrated our commitment not only through word but also in deed, and we will continue to call upon the international community to raise its ambition when it comes to the level and scale of humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people,” Price said.

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