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This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Feb. 12, 2022. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

The central bank of Afghanistan pushed back firmly Saturday against an executive order issued a day earlier by US President Joe Biden to seize over $7 billion in foreign exchange assets—a move that humanitarians have denounced as unbelievably cruel given the suffering of the Afghan people as its economy and healthcare systems teeter on the brink of collapse with millions facing starvation and freezing winter temperatures.

In a statement posted online, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) rejected the White House’s claim that the seizure of billions in Foreign Exchange Reserves (FX) was done in the name of humanitarian assistance, instead calling it an “injustice to the people of Afghanistan.”

The DAB said it “will never accept if the FX reserves of Afghanistan is paid under the name of compensation or humanitarian assistance to others” and demanded the reversal of Biden’s decision and that all seized funds be returned. “The real owners of these reserves are people of Afghanistan,” said the bank.

As Common Dreams reported Friday, condemnation of Biden’s plan—which includes making half of the funds, approximately $3.5 billion, available to settle legal claims by families who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—was swift and widespread.

Human Rights Watch was among those who said the Biden plan is deeply misguided. In a Friday statement, the group said the move is likely to bring more devastation to the innocent people of Afghanistan who had nothing to with the 9/11 attacks and should not be punished because the US government despises the Taliban government that now rules the country.

“If implemented,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, “the decision would create a problematic precedent for commandeering sovereign wealth and do little to address underlying factors driving Afghanistan’s massive humanitarian crisis.”

While Biden’s plan to direct $3.5 billion of the seized fund to humanitarian assistance for Afghans “may sound generous,” added Sifton, “it should be remembered that the entire $7 billion already legally belonged to the Afghan people. And yet, even if the US gave it to a humanitarian trust fund, current restrictions on Afghanistan’s banking sector make it virtually impossible to send or spend the money inside the country.”

Speaking with Al-Jazeera, Afghan-American activist Bilal Askaryar said the “people of Afghanistan had nothing to do with 9/11; that is an undeniable fact.”

What Biden is doing, said Askaryar “is not justice for 9/11 families,” but rather the “theft of public funds from an impoverished nation already on the brink of famine and starvation brought on by the United States’ disastrous withdrawal” in 2021.

Jon Queally

Jon Queally is managing editor and staff writer for Common Dreams.