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US ready to infuse liquidity into Afghan economy

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WASHINGTON: The United States is working with various UN agencies to find ways for infusing liquidity into the Afghan economy, the US State Department said.

The announcement, made at a news briefing in Washington, followed another statement by a State Department official in Islamabad on Monday, saying that the United States would show greater flexibility on financial sanctions imposed on Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Earlier this week, thirty-nine lawmakers sent a letter to US secretaries of state and treasury, asking them to help rebuild Afghanistan’s failing economy and to unfreeze the country’s assets. The United Nations has also backed this call.

“We are working with various UN bodies, including the UNDP, to find creative ways that we can infuse not only humanitarian aid but also liquidity into the Afghan economy,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said at the briefing in Washington.

The United States, he said, also supported the release of $280 million to Afghanistan last week from a World Bank fund. Mr Price pointed out that since August, the United States has sent $208 million of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, which adds up to $475 million this year.

The US official acknowledged that Afghanistan needed more than just humanitarian assistance and that’s why the US Treasury had relaxed some of the sanctions imposed after Aug 15, when the Taliban seized Kabul.

These first signs of flexibility in the US stance on Afghanistan followed multiple calls for Washington to review its punishing sanctions on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime. While the sanctions were already in place, the United States also froze about $9.5bn in assets and loans after the Taliban takeover.

The move dealt a devastating blow to Afghanistan’s fragile economy that’s heavily reliant on donor assistance. This also aggravated the country’s humanitarian crisis caused by drought and more than four decades of civil war.

At the State Department briefing, Spokesman Price said that Afghanistan’s economic crisis was not “entirely unique” to the present. “This is something that was pre-existing before the withdrawal of American military forces, but it’s also something that has become more acute,” he said.

Noting that factors like the ongoing drought and dependence on foreign aid were not new, he said: “We absolutely believe there is an urgent humanitarian situation in Afghanistan now. As we are now in the winter months, our concern for the wellbeing of the Afghan people is further pronounced.”

Mr Price pointed out that US Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West recently attended an OIC meeting in Islamabad, where a trust fund was set up for sending money to the people of Afghanistan.

Mr Price said that while the US will continue to be the world’s humanitarian leader for the Afghan people, “this’s not something we can do alone.”

He urged other countries to come forward and help Afghanistan, “including countries very nearby, regional countries – that can and should do more for the Afghan people.”

Asked which nearby countries the US would like to do more for Afghanistan, Mr. Price said: “I don’t think it is helpful for the cause of the humanitarian plight of the Afghan people for me specifically to call out countries by name.”

But there were “some perhaps fairly obvious countries in the region that have the ability and the stake in seeing an Afghanistan that is stable and secure,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2021

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