US permits some Taliban transactions to keep aid flowing to Afghanistan

Move follows proposal of UN payments of $6 million to Taliban for security

How the Taliban and 9/11 families' fight for Kabul's reserves could hit the Afghan people

A worker of the World Food Programme counts money during a World Food Programme cash distribution in Kabul on November 29, 2021.  (Photo by Hector RETAMAL  /  AFP)
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US and UN officials will be allowed to conduct some business with the Taliban without fear of sanctions to stave off a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

Washington's exemptions, announced on Wednesday, may pave the way for proposed UN payments of $6 million to the Taliban for security.

A UN plan to subsidise the wages and food of Interior Ministry staff who guard its facilities was reported by Reuters on Tuesday. The proposal raised questions about whether the payments would contravene US sanctions.

For years, Washington has designated the Taliban as a terrorist group, ordering their US assets to be frozen and barring Americans from doing business with the movement.

On Wednesday, the Treasury issued three general licences aimed at easing the flow of aid.

Two of them allow US officials and those of certain international organisations, such as the UN, to engage in transactions involving the Taliban or the Haqqani Network for official business.

A third permit gives non-governmental organisations protection from US sanctions for work on certain activities, including humanitarian projects, with either group.

Action demanded from Taliban

A senior US administration official said the Taliban would have to take action to prevent Afghanistan’s economy from contracting further.

“What we can attempt to do, what we’re going to work to do, is to mitigate the humanitarian crisis by getting resources to the Afghan people, and these general licences will allow us to allow organisations that are doing this work to do exactly that,” the official said.

The decision was criticised by Representative Michael McCaul, the most senior Republican on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

The exemption “could result in using American taxpayer funds to reward, legitimise and enable the same Taliban that took power by force and has shown no interest in abiding by international norms,” he said in a statement.

Afghanistan’s economic crisis accelerated after the Taliban seized power in August, when the former western-backed government collapsed and the last US troops withdrew.

Washington and other donors cut financial assistance; more than $9 billion in Afghanistan’s hard currency assets were frozen.

The UN said nearly 23 million people — about 55 per cent of the population — face extreme hunger, with about nine million at risk of famine as winter takes hold.

“We will continue to support efforts by our partners to scale up assistance and deliver necessary relief during this moment of particular need,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

In a separate bid to address the crisis, the UN Security Council passed a resolution exempting donors, aid groups and financial institutions involved in humanitarian assistance from UN asset freezes on leaders of the Taliban and associated entities.

The exemption is “solely for the provision of humanitarian assistance and other activities that support basic human needs in Afghanistan which the council will review in one year,” said Jeffrey DeLaurentis, a senior adviser to the US mission to the UN.

Updated: December 23, 2021, 6:46 AM