US won't release billions in frozen Afghan funds: WSJ
An official says the US does not believe the Afghan central bank has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly.
The United States will not release any of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank assets held on American soil and has halted relevant talks with the Taliban movement in the wake of the assassination of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul last month, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing US officials.
The decision reversed tiny signs of progress in negotiations between Washington and the Taliban and calls into question an economic recovery in Afghanistan where millions of people face starvation, the report considered.
While the Afghan central bank desperately needs those funds to resume some of the key functions, US President Joe Biden's administration expressed concerns over its ability to stabilize the situation, the WSJ added.
"We do not have confidence that that institution has the safeguards and monitoring in place to manage assets responsibly," Special Representative and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan, Tom West, told The Wall Street Journal in a statement.
"Needless to say, the Taliban’s sheltering of al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups," West said.
This claim was refuted by the Taliban which denied having any knowledge of Al-Qaeda presence after Al-Zawahiri was killed in Kabul or of Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri staying in the Afghan capital, contrary to US claims, as reported by The Washington Post.
On August 1, Biden announced that Al-Zawahiri was killed in a US drone strike in Afghanistan on July 31. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Taliban "grossly" violated the Trump-era Doha Agreement by hosting and sheltering the Al-Qaeda leader in Kabul.
UN wants $7bln in Afghan reserves frozen in US returned: Humanitarian Coordinator
The United Nations would like to see Afghanistan’s reserves in the amount of $7 billion in the United States returned to the country, Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said on Monday.
"We need to have these assets returned to Afghanistan," Alakbarov said. "I know that there are negotiations which are going on about those returns, and I know that the proposals have been made on the specific conditions of how, for instance, the private sector assets to be returned. So, flexibility needs to be exercised on both sides."
Alabakov noted that the United Nations is not part of the negotiations about returning the funds to Afghanistan nor is it aware of the details of the talks, he added.
US unlikely to unfreeze Afghan Bank assets any time soon
In the same context, Nader Nadery, a senior fellow at the Asser Institute of international law and a former senior member of the Afghan peace negotiation team, said that the pretext the US used this time is the Taliban's practices of restricting the Afghan women and girls' rights and freedoms.
"So far no sign of immediate unfreezing of the assets. It seems US conditioned it with Taliban behavior on girls education," Nadery told Sputnik when asked if the US may unfreeze the funds in the near future.
Last August, the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops and the end of the US occupation of the country, concluded with a chaotic withdrawal that drew backlash across the world.
Following the withdrawal, the US locked billions of dollars of Afghanistan government reserves. In February, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order releasing $7 billion in frozen Afghan funds to be shared between humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan and American victims of "terrorism", including 9/11 families; a step that the Taliban slammed as theft and moral decline of US.
Despite the Taliban's promise to allow women to work, study, and have a role in the government, many Afghan women were still skeptical about the new government, and dozens marched the streets of Herat in September to press for more rights and integration into the future Taliban government.
In March, the Taliban shut down girls' secondary schools in Afghanistan and forced female students to return to their homes.
Two days ago, Taliban gunmen opened fire in the air in the Afghan capital Kabul to disperse a demonstration organized by women demanding their rights to work and political participation, as well as having education.