After keeping it under direct occupation, destroying the country for 20 years – and failing to militarily defeat the Taliban (banned in Russia) – Joe Biden’s executive order to simply seize half of Afghanistan’s little over US$7 billion to use it to pay to the victims of 9/11 is just a mockery of the “values” that the US always claims to hold. With the world’s richest country stealing from probably one of the poorest countries in the world where millions, including children, are starving, serious questions about the very war that the US fought for twenty years have arisen. If the US were to ultimately ‘compensate’ the victims by paying them – and not by defeating the perpetrators of 9/11 – why did the US stay in Afghanistan for two decades and kill hundreds of thousands of people, including innocent civilians? Besides the fact that the assets being seized include years of savings of common people of Afghanistan means that common Afghans – who played literally no role in 9/11 and who actually suffered immensely from the US invasion of Afghanistan for twenty years – will be paying out of their pockets for the loss that victims of 9/11 families faced, the very decision to seize Afghanistan’s assets means that the Joe Biden administration is bent upon inflicting as much damage to Afghanistan as possible even after formally withdrawing from the country. This, in practical terms, means that the US war on Afghanistan is not over.
A travesty of justice as it already is, the utter sense of injustice is further exacerbated by the fact that none of the 19 hijackers who blasted planes into the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11 actually came from Afghanistan or was of Afghan origin. Should the people of Afghanistan – who have suffered excruciatingly more than the victims of 9/11 collectively – be made to pay for a crime that they did not do in the first place, or conspired to do at all?
Even if the US administration believes that the Afghan Taliban supported al-Qaeda (terrorist organization ,banned in Russia), let’s not forget that it was the US itself that made a pact with the same Taliban to get out of Afghanistan. Yet, it has not recognised them as a legitimate government of Afghanistan. As John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said, “There’s a legitimate question to be asked as to how a country’s sovereign wealth can be used to satisfy the debt of an entity that is not recognised as the sovereign government.”
Besides it, the money does not belong, and has never belonged, to the Afghan Taliban. By making common Afghans pay for the Taliban’s support for al-Qaeda, the US administration – and its judicial system – has exposed its utter failure in being able to differentiate between declared terrorists and common people. Going by the US logic, every single person living in Afghanistan, many of whom were not even born when 9/11 happened 21 years ago, is a terrorist – a supporter of the Taliban and al-Qaeda and responsible for the loss that families of the victims of 9/11 suffered.
This prejudiced extension of responsibility to all the Afghans is a mockery of their own loses. As data compiled by Costs of War project of Watson Institute of Brown University shows, more than two-thirds of Afghans were suffering from serious mental health issues caused by the war as early as 2009.
What about the terrorist militias, accountable to no one in Afghanistan, that the CIA created in Afghanistan itself and the crimes they did? According to a 2019 report of Watson Institute,
“the militias reportedly have committed serious human rights abuses, including numerous extrajudicial killings of civilians. CIA sponsorship ensures that their operations are clouded in secrecy. There is virtually no public oversight of their activities or accountability for grave human rights abuses.”
Shouldn’t Afghans sue the CIA – and by extension the US government itself – for the crimes it did in Afghanistan?
What about the extent of abuse and mistreatment the US military extended to thousands of Afghans in its secret jails – including those at Bagram airbase – in its so-called ‘war on terror’? According to a 2010 report of Open Society Foundation, “confinement conditions” in the US military run jails included systematic – and utterly inhuman techniques – of torture, including “exposure to excessive cold”, “exposure to excessive light”, “sleep deprivation”, “denial of religious duties”, “nudity upon arrival”, and, among other things, “lack of transparency.”
These methods, as the report further shows, contradict the very “field manuals” the US military officially uses to conduct its war. The abuse extended to the detainees is, thus, not only systematic, but also criminal. However, given the fact that these crimes were committed by the US military, rather than Afghans, means that there will be no repercussions here, nor would Afghan victims of these crimes be offered anything from the US taxpayers’ money.
At the same time, by not allowing Afghans to use their own money to tackle the extremely poor economic conditions, the US is condemning Afghanistan, even after formally withdrawing from Afghanistan, to a very long term dependence on foreign aid, assistance and charity.
While some in the US believe that not giving the money back to Afghanistan’s Central Bank will starve the Taliban regime and force them to change their ways of rule, it remains that the ultimate burden will be felt by the common Afghans. The question, therefore, is:
If, in the wake of the disaster that looms large over Afghanistan, millions perish due to the lack of resources, would somebody in the US still file a case in any court of law to hold the Biden administration accountable for directly condemning via am executive order millions to death? This is unlikely to happen, given that US democracy is always seen righteous and perfectly judicious.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.