An Afghan child suffering from malnutrition is seen at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on January 16, 2022

An Afghan child suffering from malnutrition is seen at a hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan on January 16, 2022. (Photo: Sayed Khodaiberdi Sadat/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

House Progressives Urge Biden to Release Afghan Funds 'Before It's Too Late'

"Frozen assets belonging to the Afghan people should be released and used to restore the country's economy," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to avert further humanitarian catastrophe by swiftly changing course and releasing the $7 billion seized from the Afghanistan central bank last week

"The United States is continuing to contribute to a crumbling economy and devastating impacts on the Afghan people."

Jayapal's (D-Wash.) call follows Biden's executive order on Friday that would make $3.5 billion of the stolen Afghan assets available for settlements to pay relatives of 9/11 victims. The other half of the total, according to Biden, would be set aside for future humanitarian aid to the country.

Biden's announcement sparked sharp criticism, both from within the U.S. and abroad. The country was already facing economic and humanitarian collapse, in part because of the "economic tourniquet" imposed on the country including the seizure of the central bank's funds that, while ostensibly targeting the now-ruling Taliban, have left "vital systems... starved of needed funds."

Flouting warnings from aid groups as well as the CPC, the U.S. president took "a path that raises grave concerns about the possible impact on the ability of the Afghan people to function and get the food they need to prevent starvation," said Jayapal.

"By removing and breaking up Afghanistan's already frozen funds," she added, "the United States is continuing to contribute to a crumbling economy and devastating impacts on the Afghan people. Already, schools and hospitals cannot buy food for patients or gas to heat their buildings. Reporting from the ground shows that 'incomes have vanished and life-threatening hunger has become widespread.' Aid organizations have warned that U.S. policy could result in the death of more people than in 20 years of war in Afghanistan."

Jayapal added that Biden's order "is not the way" to provide 9/11 families with needed compensation, and she also elevated concerns about ongoing economic sanctions.

Attempting to direct a portion of the seized funds to humanitarian aid simply "cannot substitute for a functioning central bank that stabilizes the currency, pays the salaries of civil servants, and provides reserves for private businesses that can prop up an ailing economy," said Jayapal. "It is also unclear how much of that aid would actually be able to reach people in need, when the country's financial system is impeded by a web of sanctions."

To best alleviate "the suffering of the Afghan people," she said Biden must not only not reverse course on the new order but should also unfreeze the funds and collaborate with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund so that "much-needed aid" can enter the country.

"President Biden has repeatedly promised that 'human rights will be at the center of our foreign policy,'" said Jayapal. "We believe that he wants to keep that commitment -- and that is why we urge him to reconsider this decision before it's too late."

"Right now, every day Afghans are being punished by international policies that are leaving millions on the brink of starvation."

Warnings about Afghanistan's have only become increasingly more dire in recent weeks, with freezing winter temperatures coupled with Covid-19, measles outbreaks, mass starvation, and widespread malnutrition gripping the country whose healthcare system has nearly collapsed.

In a Tuesday statement, Vicki Aken, International Rescue Committee's Afghanistan director, added to the chorus calling for the release of the stolen funds.

The country's "slide towards catastrophe is primarily driven by the policies of the international community, rather than conflict or natural disaster," she said. "For millions of Afghans, survival depends on their ability to access humanitarian aid, but humanitarian aid cannot replace the functions of the state. Drastic cuts in aid have been compounded by the freezing of Afghan assets and confusion around international sanctions that are driving a financial crisis that reaches into every corner of Afghan life."

"Right now," she added, "every day Afghans are being punished by international policies that are leaving millions on the brink of starvation. The next six months necessitate an improvement, and the power to ensure it happens lies in the hands of the international community. The cost of failure is too high."

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