The Taliban foreign minister Wednesday penned an “open letter” to the U.S. Congress, warning of a mass refugee exodus from Afghanistan unless the United States unblocks more than $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and ends other financial sanctions against the country.
Amir Khan Muttaqi wrote that the sanctions “have not only played havoc” with trade and business but also with humanitarian aid to millions of desperate Afghans. Muttaqi’s office in Kabul released copies of the letter in several languages, including English.
Muttaqi maintained that his government has managed to bring political stability and security to Afghanistan since returning to power last August but growing economic troubles are worsening humanitarian challenges.
“Currently the fundamental challenge of our people is financial security and the roots of this concern lead back to the freezing of assets of our people by the American government,” said the Taliban’s chief diplomat.
“We are concerned that if the current situation prevails, the Afghan government and people will face problems and will become a cause for mass migration in the region and world,” Muttaqi said.
Last week, the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that around 300,000 Afghans have fled to Iran since August and up to 5,000 continue to illegally cross the border into the neighboring country daily.
Washington and Europe have blocked Kabul’s access to more than $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets largely held in the U.S. Federal Reserve after the Islamist Taliban takeover in Afghanistan last August.
In an interview with VOA’s Afghan Service earlier this week, Republican Representative Michael McCaul was asked if he supported unfreezing Afghan government assets held inside the U.S.
“We gave up all of our leverage when we evacuated, when we surrendered Bagram Air Base, which was our intelligence surveillance reconnaissance capabilities in the region. And the only leverage we have left on the Taliban are these assets that we have frozen,” he said. “So I would not go down that path very lightly without major concessions from the Taliban.”
The World Bank and International Monetary Fund also have suspended about $1.2 billion in aid money they were supposed to release for Afghanistan this year.
“We hope that the members of the American Congress will think thoroughly in this regard and the American officials will view from [the] prism of justice the problems of our people arising from sanctions and unjust partisan treatment, and not approach this humanitarian issue in a superficial manner,” Muttaqi said.
The Taliban are struggling to pay doctors, teachers and other government employees. The international sanctions have also made it challenging for the United Nations and other aid groups to pay their staff and sustain Afghan relief operations.
The U.S. administration has frozen the Afghan money over human rights and terrorism concerns under Taliban rule. The Islamist group is also being pressed to govern the country through an inclusive political system, where the rights of Afghan women and minorities are protected.
The U.N. World Food Program has warned that years of conflict, and a prolonged drought, threaten more than half of the country’s estimated population of 40 million people with starvation this winter.
The Taliban issued the letter ahead of Wednesday’s debate in the United Nations Security Council on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and ways to address it.
No country has so far recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government in Kabul. But the unfolding Afghan humanitarian crisis has prompted all major powers, including the U.S., to remain in touch with the new rulers to ensure delivery of urgently needed aid to millions of Afghans to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
Analyst Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan official, said Muttaqi's letter fell short of what Kabul will do in the face of U.S. conditions set for granting the Taliban much-needed diplomatic recognition.
Farhadi cautioned the Taliban would be locked in an unending “war of logic with the world” unless they address international concerns.
“From a diplomatic standpoint, to show a positive development, new appointments need to occur in the [acting] government in Kabul. The world needs concrete changes in governance. Steps that are needed to give the U.S. and the world a solid argument for recognition,” he said.
Afghanistan was isolated under the previous Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001 for human rights abuses, including barring women from leaving home unaccompanied and girls from receiving an education.
Since their return to power in August, the Taliban have been repeatedly pledging that they intend to do things differently this time, although girls are still barred from returning to secondary school in most provinces.
The United States risks further damaging its reputation in Afghanistan "and this will serve as the worst memory ingrained in Afghans at the hands of America,” Muttaqi said.
"I request the government of the United States of America take responsible steps…so that doors for future relations are opened, assets of Afghanistan’s Central Bank are unfrozen and sanctions on our banks are lifted.”
VOA’s Afghan Service contributed to this report.