WASHINGTON: Outlining US foreign policy goals for 2022, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised to look ‘intensely’ at options to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy.
At a year-ender news conference on Thursday afternoon, the US foreign policy chief identified “Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear program, and China’s efforts to challenge the rules-based international order” as some of the major challenges of 2022.
Responding to a question about Afghanistan, he pointed out that the US has participated in the release of about $280 million recently in the Afghan Trust Fund. “And we are looking intensely at ways to put more liquidity into the Afghan economy, to get more money into people’s pockets,” he added.
The United States, he said, was doing that with other countries and partners and their goal was to “put in place the right mechanisms to do that in a way that doesn’t directly benefit the Taliban but does go directly to the people.”
The United States is the largest single provider of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and has already contributed about $500 million to these funds.
The US assistance, however, goes through UN agencies and international institutions as Washington refuses to provide direct assistance to the Taliban regime.
Mr. Blinken said that such restrictions aimed at ensuring that the Taliban make good on the expectations of the international community. He reminded Kabul’s new rulers that they need to reform their policies if they want recognition. The suggested measures include upholding human rights, allowing freedom of movement, stopping reprisal attacks and countering terrorism, he added.
Earlier this week, the Biden administration appointed two special envoys for defending women’s rights in Afghanistan. Secretary Blinken said the envoys will work closely with him on issues like “fundamental freedoms of women, girls, and other at-risk populations.”
The appointment followed the imposition of new restrictions in Kabul, forbidding women from traveling long distances without a male companion or attending colleges and universities on their own. The restrictions violate the pledges Taliban made after their Aug 15 takeover.
The Biden administration has also retained a series of sanctions against Taliban to persuade them to change their regressive policies.
Secretary Blinken said that despite these concerns, the Biden administration has issued multiple general licenses to ensure that “other countries, institutions, feel free to move forward with their assistance (to Afghanistan) and not be concerned about the application or implementation of sanctions against them.” The licenses also allow US officials to deal directly with Taliban and the Haqqani Network.
“We’re very conscious of the fact that there is an incredibly difficult humanitarian situation right now, one that could get worse as winter sets in. And so that’s an area of intense focus for us working closely with allies and partners,” he said.
The United States froze nearly $9.5bn of Afghan assets in August but it’s not clear if the exemptions would also lead to the release of these frozen assets.