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The US has no right to take money that belongs to the Afghan people

As Afghans sell organs to buy food, the Biden administration announces it will allocate $7bn of seized Afghan assets to the victims of 9/11

Nadia Ghulam
24 February 2022, 12.01am
Thousands of Afghans gather in Kabul to call on the US to return $7bn of Afghan assets, 15 February 2022
Saifurahan Safi/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

I have been unable to sleep since I heard the horrible news that the US government will not be returning the money it seized six months ago to impoverished Afghans.

Last summer, Joe Biden’s administration responded to the Taliban coup by blocking $7bn of Afghan assets held in America. Now, the US has announced it will allocate half of this money to humanitarian aid projects in Afghanistan, and the other half to the victims of 9/11 and their families.

In both cases, the money will surely never reach the Afghan people – my people – who so desperately need it. It is a decision that will no doubt have a huge impact on their lives.

In my country today, people are dying of starvation. They are dying by the tens, hundreds, thousands. The World Food Programme estimates that 23 million people, over half of the population, are facing acute food insecurity. There are families selling their daughters and their organs just to get a little food. If human rights really exist and are truly valued on a universal level, how can this situation be allowed to happen?

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In August, when the Taliban regime took control of my country, everyone and every institution was talking about the poor people of Afghanistan. Where is their concern today? Is Afghanistan even mentioned on social media or in the news? Who is talking about this situation? Where are the people who consider themselves activists but have been completely silent on this matter?

It is time for the world to ask Afghans what we really want. It would appear that the needs of our civil society have been deeply misunderstood. The situation is now more urgent than ever. I am talking about poor Afghan families in refugee camps. Most can neither read nor write. They are contained, trapped, locked inside the borders of my country.

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The United States has taken this money without asking us, claiming that the Taliban are the reason for this decision – as if there were just Taliban living in my country.

This is not the first time that the real Afghan people have been shut out like this. When the US made the decision to invite the Taliban to Doha in 2020 to negotiate peace, Afghan civil society was not represented. Women and young people were particularly neglected, silenced and underrepresented. This negotiation was done with the support of the United Nations, along with the corrupt Afghan government. If the Taliban are as bad as is feared by educated people outside of Afghanistan, then why were they provided with private jets, luxury offices and space to talk to diplomats? The Taliban were also recently in Switzerland, speaking as the sole representative of Afghanistan.

In reality, the Taliban represent a very small percentage of the actual population of my country. I believe there are at least 30 million people unaffiliated with the Taliban regime who are currently not represented by international organisations or any government – people like my mother, my sisters, and me. It is this civilian population that is now starving and needs a proper distribution of funds to get out of this humanitarian emergency.

The Biden administration now claims that it will allocate half of all frozen funds, around $3.5bn, to humanitarian aid projects for Afghanistan. However, aid that was distributed by the former government has not worked for the Afghan people in the past and a large amount of these funds was lost to corruption. The people of Afghanistan therefore have no guarantee that humanitarian aid projects funded by the money taken from our central bank would be any different.

Humanitarian aid can work for my people only if it places civil society organisations that have our best interests at heart at the centre. It can work only if it cuts out corrupt governmental and criminal actors (such as warlords) that divert funds from people in need in the process. Currently, what guarantees do we have that Biden’s plans for money that is rightfully ours will allow us to get out of the humanitarian emergency into which my country has been plunged?

I am hungry for justice and, if you believe in human rights, you should be too

Unfortunately, Afghans have experienced failure. Enough is enough. We can't take it anymore. We must change the system and we must do it now.

For 20 years, international organisations were in my country, investing millions and millions of dollars to, apparently, improve the lives of my countrymen and women. Yet in 2020, the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reported that 57% of Afghans were illiterate, and the real figure is likely to be higher still. The punishment for this enormous ineptitude and poor transfer of resources has fallen on Afghan civil society, a punishment that is contrary to human rights and human decency.

Please, let us talk about this decision. Let us, the Afghan people, talk to the governments around the world that are making decisions on our behalf without consulting civil society, as has been the case with the US government dividing our funds. But also, we must talk to all individual people who believe in social justice. We must unite by leaving out the Taliban. They cannot be the only interlocutor when it comes to the Afghan people. This is unbelievably unfair.

I am not only sad; I am hungry and angry. So are the rest of my people. I am hungry for justice and, if you believe in human rights, you should be too. Please help me to multiply the voice of my people in the face of this recent decision by the US government. This money does not belong to the Taliban. It is not your money, either. It must be put in the hands of civil society, especially Afghan women, youth and children.

I was unable to read and write until I was 16 years old, but you, reading this, have an opportunity to make a difference by amplifying the voices of innocent Afghans who are suffering right now. Raise your voice on our behalf, and make it clear to your government that these funds must be put directly into the hands of the Afghan people who are the most vulnerable.

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