Afghanistan’s former president has called a White House order to unfreeze 3.5 billion US dollars (£2.6 billion) in Afghan assets held in the US for families of 9/11 victims “an atrocity” against the Afghan people.
Hamid Karzai sought the help of Americans, particularly the families of the thousands killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to press US President Joe Biden to rescind last week’s order.
Speaking at a packed news conference, he called the move “unjust and unfair”, saying Afghans had also been victims of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden was brought to Afghanistan by Afghan warlords after being expelled from Sudan in 1996. These same warlords would later ally with the US-led coalition to remove the Taliban in 2001. But it was Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar who refused to hand over bin Laden to the US after the 9/11 attacks that killed thousands.
“The people of Afghanistan share the pain of the American people, share the pain of the families and loved ones of those who died, who lost their lives in the tragedy of September 11,” Mr Karzai said.
“We commiserate with them (but) Afghan people are as much victims as those families who lost their lives.
“Withholding money or seizing money from the people of Afghanistan in their name is unjust and unfair and an atrocity against Afghan people.”
The order Mr Biden signed last Friday freed seven billion US dollars (£5.2 billion) in Afghan assets currently held in the United States, to be divided between 9/11 victims and humanitarian aid to Afghans.
September 11 victims and their families have legal claims against the Taliban and the seven billion US dollars in the United States banking system. The 3.5 billion US dollars was set aside for a United States court to decide whether it can be used to settle claims by families of 9/11 victims. US courts would also have to sign off before the release of humanitarian assistance money.
Mr Karzai said we “ask the US courts to do the opposite, to return the Afghan money back to the Afghan people”.https://a1a8f8efde44d0563e5e43fdffcd4dfb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
“This money does not belong to any government … this money belongs to the people of Afghanistan.”
Meanwhile, Mr Biden’s order calls for the 3.5 billion US dollars allocated to humanitarian aid to be put into a trust and used to assist Afghans, bypassing their Taliban rulers.
But Mr Karzai demanded all seven billion US dollars be returned to Afghanistan’s central bank to further its monetary policy.
He argued against giving Afghan reserves to international aid organisations to provide humanitarian aid.
“You give us our own money so that it can be spent for those foreigners who come here, to pay their salaries, to give it to (non-governmental organisations),” he said.
A Taliban fighter stands guard in front of a queue of people waiting to enter a bank in Kabul (Hussein Malla/AP)
Afghanistan’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into the country with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban.
Last month, the United Nations made a five billion US dollars (£3.7 billion) appeal for Afghanistan.
The UN warned that one million children were in danger of starving and 90% of Afghans lived below the poverty level of 1.90 US dollars (£1.40) a day.
Mr Karzai was Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. He served until 2014 before Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on August 15, leaving the doors open for the Taliban takeover of Kabul.
Mr Karzai was highly regarded as embracing all of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups but his administration, like subsequent Afghan administrations, was dogged by charges of widespread corruption.