US government’s preconditions are, at best, attempts by the President to delay returning the money the Taliban government desperately needs to rebuild Afghanistan after years of death and destruction.
It’s not entirely clear what is behind Joe Biden’s move to transfer the money that the US has been holding on behalf of the Afghanistan people to an account in Switzerland, or at least half of it. But we shouldn’t hold our breaths waiting for this money to be returned to its rightful owners.
When the Taliban took power over a year ago, the US had 7 billion dollars of Afghan money. Initially, the moral tutelage the Biden administration offered when tackled on the subject was weak and barely convincing; he even suggested that it should be given to the families of 9/11 victims for legal fees to fight the Taliban in international courts.
But Biden couldn’t have guessed that those families would respond in the way they did. They told him to give the money to the Afghan people. With the mid-term elections just weeks away, perhaps he thought it would be good PR to woo Muslim voters in the US with such a gesture?
And so this is what the recent move is, to move half of the money to a Swiss bank account with both US and Swiss officials to be its guardian.
In the meantime, many will question the sincerity of the move. For Afghans themselves to get their hands on the money – a considerable amount which could go to hospitals and paying civil servants – Biden laid out a number of conditions.
In short, he wants the central bank in Kabul to distance itself from the Taliban and a number of officials to be replaced. This request, though, given the strength and reach of the Taliban, is preposterous.
Biden may well be playing the longer game and hoping that the deterioration of the country speeds up, and just like in the late ’90s, the Taliban starts to splinter, and a civil war ensues. In this scenario, this money could no doubt be given to international aid agencies as a relief to mitigate the chaos and malnutrition. Indeed, just recently, a group of both international and local NGOs had voiced their concerns about the state of the health sector in the country and pleaded for this money to be realised.
Another argument will be, from Biden’s side, that as the economy of Afghanistan implodes, there is always the obvious worry that the Taliban divides and the two sides fight for power. In this scenario, it may well be that terror groups in Afghanistan might side with one faction in exchange for more freedom to operate in the country, which goes entirely against the international agreement that the Taliban signed in Doha in 2020.
The problem is made worse by the fact that the Taliban itself, for a fleeting moment after taking power, hinted that it was prepared to take more reconciliatory steps in its domestic political agenda.
Unfortunately, this has failed to happen, and the West has lost all hope with any such initiatives from the group, given that just weeks after taking power, it emerged that the group began implementing its strict policies on girls’ education and other issues.
And so Biden’s letter is almost a bribe in that it explains the money can be transferred over, but a number of strict conditions will have to be respected.
One viewpoint of this is that it is an opportunity for the Taliban to show that it can work with the West; another view though would be that the Americans are playing a cheap game so as to assert hegemony and give Biden a boost in a foreign policy initiative which made him look weak and ineffective.
And there will be those who believe that the initiative is entirely fake and has a nefarious undertone in that, in reality, it is presented during a period when the country is collapsing and that Biden himself would be happy if the Taliban government fell; and that Afghanistan sought assistance from the West in everything, including governance.
The problem is that America’s tainted legacy in Afghanistan is one based on lies and deceit, and Biden lost so much face over his abrupt withdrawal of US troops that he needs to use this money as a tool of political leverage rather than as a humanitarian deed.
The consequences of this erroneous and hypocritical decision will be that the very essence of what America fears – "groups hostile to the US becoming closer to the Taliban – is more of an inevitability than an opaque foreign policy foible. Afghanistan is not only the “graveyard of empires” but also a tombstone of America’s foreign policy integrity and joined-up thinking.
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