The Forgotten Humanitarian Catastrophe

International campaign calls also on Berlin to release Afghanistan’s central bank reserves. The funds are needed to combat the current famine.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/KABUL (Own report) – An international campaign is calling on the western powers – including Germany – to release the frozen assets of the Afghan central bank to be able to combat the current famine in Afghanistan. According to an open letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, published last week by the United Against Inhumanity (UAI) campaign, Berlin should immediately release the portion of the Afghan central bank’s reserves, deposited in Germany. Reserves valued at US $2.1 billion are in European banks, including Germany’s. Another US $7 billion are in the United States. On February 11, US President Joe Biden stipulated that half of those assets should be confiscated and paid to the families of victims of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as reparations. That decision has provoked massive protest in Afghanistan. Critics are calling this move an unabashed “theft” and accuse the USA of behaving like a colonial power. In Afghanistan, nearly 4 million children are undernourished, up to a million children are on the verge of starvation.

Occupation Economy without Occupiers

The current famine in Afghanistan has several causes. On the one hand, the country is suffering under one of the worst droughts in decades. On the other, the Covid-19 pandemic has left deep scars on the country. But, above all, the Afghan economy collapsed with the hasty withdrawal of the western powers in August 2021. The West had been unsuccessful in building a sovereign economy at the Hindu Kush in the nearly 20-year reign of occupation. Afghanistan remained, to a large extent, dependent on payments from abroad, which bloated certain sectors – for example, the services for western troops and western civilian personnel – and also facilitated corruption: typical characteristics of unsustainable occupation economies. Whereas foreign aid money wound up in the immediate entourage of the western occupiers, or was transferred abroad by corrupt functionaries – often to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – the vast majority of the population sank ever deeper in poverty. When the Taliban retook power in August 2021, the western countries halted their aid payments. This pulled the rug out from under Afghanistan’s occupation economy.[1]

Fatal Sanctions

The mortal blow to the Afghan economy came with the sanctions that had been initially imposed on the Taliban, however, after their retaking power, actually targeted the entire state apparatus. Afghanistan is also cut off from SWIFT, and thus from the global financial system – with serious consequences not only for all kinds of private sector activities, but especially also for aid organizations, for whom it has become impossible to transfer financial aid into the country, using the normal methods. As Thomas ten Boer, the Welt Hunger Hilfe national director for Afghanistan, explains, the organization must work “with cash brokers” – indigenous moneychangers and couriers, which is “a great inhibiting factor, because we must check each and every one of them for money laundering ties or links to financing of terrorist activities.” This is imperative because of international guidelines, “even when all moneychangers are vetted by the government and officially certified and reliable.”[2] The demand to lift Afghanistan’s exclusion from SWIFT, to again allow regular financial transfers, has been blocked so far by western powers.

Frozen Reserves

In addition, in the summer of 2021, the western powers froze the reserves of the Afghan central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank, DAB) – US $7 billion in the USA, around US $2.1 billion particularly in banks in Europe, including German banks. The consequences have been fatal. As the international campaign United Against Inhumanity (UAI) explains, this measure has led to the Afghan central bank no longer being able to function properly. “Far-reaching ... disruptions in the banking and trade sectors” are the consequences. Afghans, who, for example, are “employed in the health and educational sectors” cannot be paid their salaries and also “no longer have access to their life savings.” The dramatic liquidity crisis is blocking the country’s reconstruction and escalating the already horrifying poverty at the Hindu Kush.[3] In the meantime, according to UN estimates, out of the population of 42 million, nearly 23 million Afghans are on the verge of acute hunger; 13 million children are dependent on humanitarian aid; almost four million children are undernourished. The United Nations warns of “one of the most profound humanitarian crises the world has ever witnessed.”[4]

Colonial Theft

Particular outrage has been provoked by the fact that, with his Executive Order dated February 11, US President Joe Biden had confiscated the Afghan central bank’s reserves deposited in the United States. Half of the reserves are to be used to pay reparations to families of victims of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. In fact, this makes the Afghan population liable for a crime committed by others – jihadis from the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. This is done at a time, when Afghanistan is on the verge of famine. In Afghanistan this measure has sparked widespread protest demonstrations. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai called it “unjust and unfair” and “an atrocity against the Afghan people.”[5] Shah Merabi, a board member of the Afghan Central Bank and a professor of economic sciences at Montgomery College, in the state of Maryland, USA, reported that many Afghans call these measures unabashed “theft“; "Others openly call the United States a “colonial power,” that “dictates” and also “steals the reserves of the people."[6]

Threatened with Starvation

Last week, the UAI launched a campaign aimed at securing the release of the Afghan central bank’s reserves – a step that would cost western governments little, but would be a big relief for the Afghan people, because it is the prerequisite for the reconstruction of Afghanistan’s economy. The campaign is explicitly not only targeting the US administration, but, also Chancellor Olaf Scholz, because a share of the Afghan central bank’s reserves is in Germany. As stated in the open letter to Scholz, published by UAI last week: according to the UN statistics, “8.7 million poverty-stricken citizens of Afghanistan are on the verge of starvation; a million children are threatened to die this winter.”[7] Sheer destitution is driving desperate Afghan families “to sell” those children, they are no longer able to feed “in exchange for food.” The UAI and various prominent signers are calling on Scholz to “allow the DAB, an independent, experienced, and trustworthy central bank, access to assets from Afghanistan’s national reserves, deposited in German banks.” Berlin has not yet complied to this request.


[1] See also Occupation Economy without Occupiers

[2] Marina Zapf: „Die notleidende Bevölkerung ist Geisel der Politik“. 17.02.2022.

[3] UAI-Erklärung: Eingefrorene Vermögenswerte, verzweifelte Afghanen – sofortiges Handeln ist erforderlich. 07.03.2022.

[4] UNFPA Afghanistan Humanitarian Appeal 2022.

[5] Kathy Gannon: Biden Order on Frozen Funds an Atrocity, Says Former Afghan President Karzai. 14.02.2022.

[6] U.S. plan to compensate 9/11 victims with Afghan central bank funds ‘unconcionable’: bank board member. 26.02.2022.

[7] Betreff: Freigabe der eingefrorenen Gelder Afghanistans. Genf, 8. März 2022.