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Karzai calls US allocation of Afghan funds to 9/11 victims ‘unjust’

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KABUL: Former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai has sought the help of Americans, particularly the families of the thousands killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to press President Joe Biden to rescind last week’s order. 

Karzai at a packed news conference on Sunday has called Washington’s decision to unfreeze $3.5 billion in Afghan assets held in the United States for families of 9/11 victims a “crime” against the Afghan people.

He called it “unjust and unfair,” saying Afghans have also been victims of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“The people of Afghanistan share the pain of the American people, share the pain of the families and loved ones of those who died, who lost their lives in the tragedy of September 11,” said Karzai. 

“We commiserate with them (but) Afghan people are as much victims as those families who lost their lives. … Withholding money or seizing money from the people of Afghanistan in their name is unjust and unfair and an atrocity against Afghan people.”

President Biden’s order signed last Friday freed $7 billion in Afghan assets currently held in the United States, to be divided between 9/11 victims and humanitarian aid to Afghans that riled many Afghans cutting across all divides.

September 11 victims and their families have legal claims against the Taliban and the $7 billion in the US banking system. The $3.5 billion was set aside for a US court to decide whether it can be used to settle claims by families of 9/11 victims. US courts would also have to sign off before the release of humanitarian assistance money.

We “ask the US courts to do the opposite, to return the Afghan money back to the Afghan people,” said Karzai. 

“This money does not belong to any government; this money belongs to the people of Afghanistan.”

Meanwhile, Biden’s order calls for the $3.5 billion allocated to humanitarian aid to be put into a trust and be used to assist Afghans, bypassing their Taliban rulers.

But Karzai demanded all $7 billion be returned to Afghanistan’s central bank to further its monetary policy. He argued against giving Afghan reserves to international aid organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

“You give us our own money so that it can be spent for those foreigners who come here, to pay their salaries, to give it to (non-governmental organizations),” he said.

Bin Laden was brought to Afghanistan by Afghan warlords after being expelled from Sudan in 1996. Those same warlords would later ally with the US-led coalition to oust the Taliban in 2001. Initially, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar refused to hand over bin Laden to the US after the devastating 9/11 attacks that killed thousands. But later it was the US that refused the Taliban’s offer to hand over Bin Laden to a third or neutral country. 

Afghanistan’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into the country with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban.

Last month, the United Nations made a $5 billion appeal for Afghanistan. The UN warns that 1 million children are in danger of starving and 90% of Afghans live below the poverty level of just $1.90 a day.

Karzai was Afghanistan’s first president after the US-led coalition ousted the Taliban in 2001. He served until 2014 before Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country on August 15, leaving the doors open for the Taliban takeover of Kabul. Karzai was highly regarded as embracing all of Afghanistan’s many ethnic groups but his administration, like subsequent Afghan administrations, was dogged by charges of widespread corruption.

Karzai spoke to a packed press conference inside his sprawling compound in the capital of Kabul. Dozens of Afghanistan’s Pashto- and Persian-language journalists jockeyed for space in a second-floor conference room with more than a dozen television cameras.

Karzai used the news conference to press the country’s Taliban rulers and their opponents to find a way to come together. He lobbied for the traditional Afghan grand council, or loya jirga, as a means to find consensus and establish a more representative administration.

“We, as Afghans, and the current acting Islamic government must do our best to not give America or any other country any excuse to be against us,” he said.

Meanwhile, demonstrators in Afghanistan’s capital have condemned President Joe Biden’s order freeing up $3.5 billion in Afghan assets held in the US for families of America’s 9/11 victims – saying the money belongs to Afghans.

Protesters who gathered outside Kabul’s grand Eid Gah mosque on Saturday asked America for financial compensation for the tens of thousands of Afghans killed during the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan.

Biden’s order, signed Friday, allocates another $3.5 billion in Afghan assets for humanitarian aid to a trust fund to be managed by the UN to provide aid to Afghans. 

The country’s economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming into Afghanistan with the arrival in mid-August of the Taliban.

Torek Farhadi, a financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former US-backed government, questioned the UN managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. 

He said those funds are not meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment.”

He also questioned the legality of Biden’s order.

“These reserves belong to the people of Afghanistan, not the Taliban … Biden’s decision is one-sided and does not match with international law,” said Farhadi. 

Afghanistan has about $9 billion in assets overseas, including the $7 billion in the United States. The rest is mostly in Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Switzerland.

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