The United States has relaxed some of its sanctions to pave the way for humanitarian and economic aid to flow into the crisis-hit and economically paralysed Afghanistan. The move comes amidst international pressure and the fear of a worsening humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.
The US Treasury Department on Friday said that it had issued two general licences necessary to provide humanitarian assistance. One of the permits will allow the US government, non-governmental organizations and, select international organizations, including the United Nations, to engage with the Taliban or Haqqani Network – both under sanctions to provide much-needed humanitarian support.
The second licence will authorize transactions related to the export and re-export of food, medicine, and other items.
In a statement, the Director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki said, “Treasury is committed to facilitating the flow of humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan and other activities that support their basic human needs.”
Gacki said that the US will continue to work with financial institutions, NGOs and international organisations to assist the flow of agricultural goods, medicine, including COVID-19 assistance, and other basic resources.
The relaxation in sanctions will allow international organisations and NGOs to pay taxes, fees, import duties or permits, or other necessary transactions for assistance to reach the people of Afghanistan.
Gacki said that the move does not change Washington’s stance regarding the sanctions on the Taliban, Haqqani Network, and other individuals.
A Treasury spokesperson said, “We have not reduced sanctions pressure on Taliban leaders or the significant restrictions on their access to the international financial system.”
Earlier, US President Joe Biden’s administration said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work in Afghanistan to continue, despite Washington listing the Taliban as a specially designated global “terrorist” group.
Earlier at the beginning of the year, the United Nations said that over 18 million people – about half of Afghanistan’s population – were in urgent need of aid amid the country’s second drought in four years.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Afghanistan is on “the verge of a dramatic humanitarian disaster”. Guterres said that the UN would engage with the Taliban in order to help the country’s people.
Several international organizations such as the UN World Health Organization, Afghanistan’s representatives from Doctors Without Borders, and the International Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent called for funding to resume for the country’s health program saying that the country’s health system was on the brink of collapse.
The Taliban toppled the Western-backed government in Kabul in mid-August as the US troops withdrew from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. After the fall of Kabul, the US froze about $9bn worth of Afghan government foreign reserves held in New York and the World Bank. The International Monetary Fund and European Union also moved to suspend project financing in Afghanistan.
Neighboring Pakistan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry officials said that without access to these funds, the interim Taliban government in Kabul cannot even pay the import taxes needed to bring containers of food from Pakistan or any other country.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Afghans held a protest in Kabul, calling for the release of central bank assets held in the US.