The Biden administration cannot release half of the $7 billion it has set aside for Afghanistan as it involves a lengthy judicial process, says a senior US official.

US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Friday, saying that half of this fund would go to a trust fund the administration would set up for humanitarian relief in Afghanistan. The other half would be kept for compensating the victims of the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

The order, however, also said that the administration needs judicial permission to do so as a US federal court is already considering a plea from the victims’ families who demand the entire amount for compensation.

At a recent briefing for journalists on the executive order, a senior administration official also highlighted this legal issue, pointing out that the government must follow the judicial process.

“Because we have to go through a judicial process here, it is going to be at least a number of months before we can move any of this money,” he said.

“So, this money isn’t going to be available over the next couple of months regardless — so, regardless of amount, regardless of what we might want to do.”

The New York Times in its report on the decision highlighted another issue which, it said, was “further complicating matters”. The report pointed out that “the United States does not recognise the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, raising the question of whether funds belonging to the Afghan central bank are really the Taliban’s”.

The report noted that “under domestic political pressure”, the Biden administration decided to inform the court hearing the matter that “it thinks the bank’s money is sufficiently linked to the Taliban now that they control that country and its institutions”.

This question was also addressed at another briefing by John Sifton, Asia Director at a US advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Directing $3.5 billion to humanitarian assistance for Afghans may sound generous, but it should be remembered that the entire $7 billion already legally belonged to the Afghan people,” he wrote in an HRW report.

Another ‘legitimate question’, he wrote, was “how a country’s sovereign wealth can be used to satisfy the debt of an entity that is not recognised by the sovereign government”.

The decision to split the funds in two halves “creates a highly problematic precedent for a policy of essentially commandeering a country’s sovereign wealth and utilising it for things that Afghan people may not want it to be used for,” he added.

The HRW’s advocacy director underlined other issues as well that he said the Biden administration might face when it starts sending the money to Afghanistan.

“Even if the US gave it to a humanitarian trust fund, current restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking sector make it virtually impossible to send or spend the money inside the country,” he wrote.

Instead, the HRW urged the US to focus on “ongoing efforts by the United Nations and humanitarian organisations to convince the US and World Bank to ease economic restrictions to allow Afghanistan’s economy … to stabilise”.


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