Russia and China tell US to return $7bn in frozen Afghan funds

Afghanistan's foreign reserves were frozen in the US banking system when the Taliban seized power last year

Afghans in Kabul hold placards during a protest against the US move to transfer $3.5 billion in Afghan central bank assets to a new Swiss-based trust fund. EPA
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China and Russia called on the US on Tuesday to release $7 billion of Afghanistan's foreign reserves that were frozen when the Taliban seized control of the country a year ago.

Washington does not want the money to be used to bankroll the Taliban, which vanquished western-backed forces in August 2021 following a 20-year conflict.

US President Joe Biden has ordered that half of the funds be used to create a trust to compensate victims still seeking relief for the 9/11 attacks, which were planned by Al Qaeda operatives working in Afghanistan under the Taliban's protection.

At the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Geng Fhung, China's deputy ambassador to the UN, called for the “full” and “swift” return of the frozen assets to help “alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the humanitarian suffering of the Afghan people”.

And Anna Evstigneeva, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, said the US should give the money back “immediately”.

The US government this month established a $3.5bn foundation to help address the unfolding economic and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan while keeping the funds out of the Taliban's hands.

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Senior US diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis stressed to the council that no country that is “serious about containing terrorism in Afghanistan would advocate giving Taliban ready access to $3.5bn in Afghan central bank assets”.

More than a year since the Taliban's return to power, western nations are growing increasingly alarmed over the group's enforcement of hardline religious laws.

Before the Security Council meeting, Norway circulated a draft press statement condemning the Taliban’s decision to ban girls from attending high school.

But diplomatic sources say that negotiations over the draft statement were strained because China and Russia insisted on a product that included text referring to Afghanistan’s frozen bank assets.

The differences between China and Russia and other members could not be resolved, and the press statement was not issued.

Markus Potzel, the UN's deputy special representative for Afghanistan, told the council that while there have been some positive developments since the Taliban took power last year, “they have been too few and too slow and are outweighed by the negatives”.

“I am afraid that patience is running out by many in the international community regarding a strategy of engagement with Afghanistan's Taliban,” he said, according to AFP.

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Updated: September 27, 2022, 8:10 PM