Biden administration expands authorizations for business in Afghanistan

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Feb. 26 (UPI) — Senior Biden administration officials have issued a general license to expand authorizations for business transactions in Afghanistan in effort to address the country’s financial crisis amid sanctions.

The general license from the Treasury will “expand authorizations for commercial and financial transactions, in Afghanistan, including with Afghanistan’s governing institutions,” which would “otherwise be prohibited by U.S. sanctions,” senior administration officials said through teleconference Friday, according to a White House statement.

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“However, it does not authorize financial transactions to the Taliban, Haqqani Network, associated entities, and any blocked individual who is in a leadership role of a governing institution in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

“The license will ensure U.S. sanctions do not stand in the way of transactions and activities needed to provide aid and support the basic human needs of the people of Afghanistan. It reflects our deep commitment to support the people of Afghanistan during this ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis.”

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The general license issued Friday is the seventh issued to support humanitarian aid in Afghanistan’s crumbling economy, according to the statement.

Prior general licenses showed how nonprofits could do business with Afghanistan, and Friday’s license also covered personal and commercial banking, infrastructure development, commercial trade, safety and maintenance for transportation and telecommunications.

Prior to the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan was dependent on external aid, with approximately $8.5 billion in grants each year, going towards 75% of public expenditures, the White House statement noted.

“Moreover, more than half of these foreign transfers were for military and security needs and have been terminated,” the statement said.

Analysts projected the Afghan economy would contract as much as 30% in the past year. The poverty rate stood at nearly 50% in 2020, and only 10% to 20% of Afghan adults held bank accounts that year.

Prior to 2021, the country’s loan-to-GDP ratio also stood at 3% — the lowest in the world.

The Biden administration announced $308 million in aid to Afghanistan in January and 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the United Nations-led COVAX program.

The January donation brought total donations since October to $782 million.

The United States has partnered with the World Bank and other non-governmental organizations to facilitate aid to Afghanistan, noting that a World Bank-administered Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund transferred $280 million in aid in December.

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These funds will go to UNICEF ($100 million) and the World Food Program ($180 million) for humanitarian needs, according to the White House statement.

“Going forward, Treasury and the Biden administration will continue to apply rigorous sanctions to the Taliban and their collaborators until they halt their repressive actions, while providing necessary exemptions to facilitate the flow of legitimate aid to the Afghan people,” senior administration officials said in the statement.

The Biden administration froze about $7 billion in assets last August when the Taliban forced its way back into power.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to free $3.5 billion in frozen assets connected to Afghanistan for humanitarian aid in the country and set aside the other half for families of 9/11 victims making their case in court, resulting in criticism.

The criticism came among Afghan people and victims of 9/11, CNN reported. Some activists said that all of the money should go to the Afghan people since they had no role in the attack.

On the other hand, Brett Eagleson, the son of a 9/11 victim, said all relatives of victims, not just the ones currently suing, should be allowed access to the frozen money.

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