- The money cuts would go to the poorest facing hunger
- A special fund could help pay salaries
- Some donors want money to pressure the Taliban
BRUSSELS / FRANKFURT / WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – As desperate Afghans resort to selling their belongings to buy food, international officials prepare to steal cash for the needy while avoiding government funding Taliban, according to people familiar with the confidential plans.
Planning for cash airlifts continues against the backdrop of a rapidly collapsing economy where money is running out, though diplomats still wonder if Western powers can demand that the Taliban make concessions in return, documents say internal policy consulted by Reuters.
Emergency funding, aimed at averting a humanitarian crisis in the face of drought and political upheaval, could see US dollar banknotes funneled into Kabul for distribution through banks in payments of less than $ 200 directly to the poor – with the blessing of the Taliban but without their involvement. .
In addition to stealing money to stem the immediate crisis, donor countries want to set up a “humanitarian plus” trust fund that would pay salaries and keep schools and hospitals open, two senior officials said.
Many Afghans have started selling their goods to pay for increasingly scarce food. The departure of forces led by the United States and many international donors deprived the country of subsidies that financed 75% of public spending, according to the World Bank.
The West’s unorthodox strategy reflects the dilemma it faces. Always keen to help Afghanistan after two decades of war and prevent massive migration, he is also loath to give money to the Taliban, who seized power in August and has yet to show significant change. compared to the harsh way they ruled the country between 1996. -2001.
The United Nations has warned that 14 million Afghans face hunger. Mary-Ellen McGroarty, director of the United Nations World Food Program for Afghanistan, said the economy could collapse in the face of the cash flow crisis.
âA lot of parents give up food so that their children can eat,â she said.
In recent days, diplomats and Western officials have stepped up efforts to establish a cash lifeline.
The United Nations World Food Program has distributed around 10 million Afghans ($ 110,000) in cash through a local bank and intends to disburse more soon, a person with knowledge of the situation said.
The cash runs are a test for larger air deliveries of dollars from Pakistan, the person said.
A senior diplomat said two approaches were being explored to inject money into the Afghan economy. Both are in the planning phase.
Under the first plan, the World Food Program would steal cash and distribute it directly to people to buy food, expanding something the agency has already done on a smaller scale.
In the second approach, cash would be held by banks on behalf of the United Nations. This would be used to pay the salaries of staff of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations, the diplomat said.
A third person said UN officials have spoken to Afghan banks about opening money channels.
“If the country collapses, we will all pay the consequences,” said a senior European Union official. “No one wants to rush into a reconnaissance of the Taliban, but we have to deal with them. The question is not whether … but how.”
A spokesperson for the World Food Program said it helped nearly 4 million people in September, nearly triple the number in August, mostly with food, and that cash assistance was distributed in Kabul. The spokesperson said the lack of cash also affected the millers and truckers he worked with.
A LEVER OF NINE BILLION DOLLARS
Separately, the European Union, Britain and the United States have discussed creating an international trust fund to bypass the Afghan government and help fund local services, according to two officials with knowledge of the matter.
The Taliban did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the cash airlift plans.
A spokesperson for the US Treasury said it would allow humanitarian aid through independent international and non-governmental organizations while “denying goods” to the Taliban and sanctioning their leaders.
The government in Kabul has little to fall back on. The central bank, with $ 9 billion in assets frozen abroad, has depleted much of its reserves at home.
Shah Mehrabi, an official who helped oversee the bank before the Taliban took power and is still in office, recently called for the release of overseas reserves.
“If reserves remain frozen, Afghan importers will not be able to pay for their shipments, banks will start to collapse, food will become scarce,” he said.
But there is also a debate on whether conditions should be attached to the release of funds.
In an article written last month and seen by Reuters, French and German officials outline their goal of using money as “leverage” to put pressure on the Taliban.
“Countries could condition recognition of the political legitimacy … of the Taliban on the commitments they are prepared to make,” officials said in the two-page report.
“The economic and commercial levers are among the strongest we have,” said the note, referring to the prospect of releasing the Afghan reserves held abroad.
In a separate diplomatic note, French and German officials present five demands that could be addressed to the Taliban.
These include allowing Afghans who wish to leave the country to do so, “severing ties with … terrorist organizations”, allowing access to humanitarian aid, respecting human rights and ‘establish an âinclusive governmentâ.
Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Michelle Nichols and Rupam Jain; Writing by John O’Donnell; Editing by Giles Elgood
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