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Afghan children in hospital

Two severely malnourished Afghan children are among those filling the therapeutic feeding wards at the Indira Ghandi Institute of Child Health, a state hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan, on January 18, 2022. The United Nations has warned that 23 million Afghans—more than half the population—are on the verge of famine, as winter deepens, and the United States on Friday seized $7 billion in assets from the Afghan central bank.  Meanwhile, the UN has made an emergency appeal for $5.5 billion to feed the hungry and forestall further economic collapse. (Photo: Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

'Love to Afghanistan' Vigils to Demand Return of $7 Billion Stolen by US

"This money belongs to the people of Afghanistan, not to the United States," said an Afghan protest organizer in Kabul over the weekend.

Jon Queally

With the people of Afghanistan facing one of the most severe humanitarian crises in the world, U.S.-based peace activists—who largely blame the policies of their own government for inflicting pain on millions of innocent Afghans—are using Valentine's Day on Monday to demand the Biden administration return billions of dollars of seized assets to the war-torn country before more lasting harm and "cruelty" is done.

Under the banner of "Love to Afghanistan," nationwide actions were scheduled for the weekend and localized vigils organized set for Monday (Feb. 14) by Peace Action, World Beyond War, and other humanitarian groups who argue that $7 billion frozen by the U.S. government and subsequently seized by an executive order issued Friday by President Joe Biden rightfully belongs to the Afghan people, who without it face an economy on the brink of collapse and a healthcare system and federal infrastructure without adequate support amid the Covid-19 pandemic and a worsening food crisis.

Thus far vigils for Valentine's Day are taking place in Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, New York, and other states.

According to a call to action by organizers:

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, Peace Action welcomed the withdrawal of troops from the country and an end to the war.

Yet when the United States military pulled out of Afghanistan, the Biden administration also responded by choking off assets to Afghan banks and the economy by freezing the reserves of the Afghan Central Bank held in the U.S. They also imposed sanctions on those doing business with Afghanistan and cut aid. Jobs and income disappeared, people cannot afford to buy food and mass starvation is now occurring.

The Afghan people are suffering now more than ever. Hunger could kill more now than in two decades of war. This humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is in the words of the International Red Cross a “human-made catastrophe.” “Human-made” largely by coercive U.S. economic policies.

In Decemebr, 46 members of Congress wrote a letter demanding the U.S. unfreeze assets that had been locked following the U.S. military withdrawal earlier in 2021. But instead of heeding that call, Biden on Friday took the step of more permanently seizing the funds that otherwise would be under control of Afghanistan's central bank, the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), which now operates under the authority of the Taliban government.

Biden's executive order includes setting aside half of the funds, $3.5 billion, for possible settlement claims by families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks of 2001, but critics have said the Afghan people—who had nothing to do with the crimes of that day twenty years ago—should not be punished for the acts of Al Qaeda jihadists, most them Saudis and Egyptians.

Promoting the "Love to Afghanistan" events in an op-ed for Common Dreams last week, peace activist Jean Athey, coordinator of the Montgomery County Peace Action group in Maryland, said the economic war against the Afghan has the potential to be just as deadly as the 20 years of war and occupation they have just endured. Explaining the current situation and the "liquidity crisis" gripping the country, she wrote:

The government has almost no money and cannot pay workers, who cannot buy food for their families. Most have received no payment for months. In addition, Afghans have limited access to their own funds in banks. International commerce has halted. 

Given U.S. sanctions and the liquidity crisis, even international humanitarian relief organizations have great difficulty operating in Afghanistan, despite U.S. government assurances. Relief efforts designed to stave off starvation—although critically important right now—cannot endure for long since no one is willing to provide assistance indefinitely to a country of almost 40 million people. The country needs a functioning government and economy, and needs access to the international financial system.

"Political backbone" is now required of the Biden administration, argued Athey, who said the president should not be scared of predictable GOP attacks or media hit pieces about somehow appeasing the Taliban by giving the everyday people back money the money that rightfully belongs to them. "The lives of one million children are more important than a negative headline in a tabloid. The U.S. should unfreeze Afghan government assets and lift sanctions hindering the recovery of the Afghan economy and humanitarian relief efforts. We must end the U.S. economic war on Afghanistan."

On Saturday, the DAB demanded the funds ostensibly stolen by the U.S. government be returned and called the move by Biden an "injustice against the people of Afghanistan."

Also in Saturday, protests in Kabul decried the theft of the money.

"This money belongs to the people of Afghanistan, not to the United States. This is the right of Afghans,” Abdul Rahman, a civil society activist and the demonstration's organizer, told the Dawn newsaper.

A spokesperson for the Taliban government, Mohammad Naeem, also decried the move in a post on social media Saturday.

"The theft and seizure of money held by the United States of the Afghan people represent the lowest level of human and moral decay of a country and a nation," Naeem tweeted, added that while victory and defeat are evident throughout history, "the greatest and most shameful defeat is when moral defeat combines with military defeat."


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