Members of Congress Call on Biden to Reverse U.S. Policies Contributing to Afghanistan’s Humanitarian and Economic Crisis
December 20, 2021
WASHINGTON — Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), CPC Vice Chair and House Financial Services Committee member Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), and House Foreign Affairs Committee member Sara Jacobs (CA-53) led four dozen members of Congress in calling on the Biden administration to urgently reverse U.S. policies contributing to imminent mass starvation and the current economic collapse of Afghanistan.
In a letter addressed to the President and senior Treasury Department officials, the lawmakers emphasized their support for his decision to withdraw troops from the country, but urged that the new phase of the U.S.-Afghan relationship must avoid harsh economic measures that will directly cause loss of life and other harm to Afghan families and children. Specifically, they urge “conscientiously but urgently modifying current U.S. policy regarding the freeze of Afghanistan's foreign reserves and ongoing sanctions.” They write, “We fear, as aid groups do, that maintaining this policy could cause more civilian deaths in the coming year than were lost in 20 years of war.”
Citing United Nations estimates that 1 million Afghan children are at risk of starving to death, the members of Congress note that the U.S. freeze of $9.4 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign reserves in August, along with the imposition of broad economic sanctions, are driving “soaring inflation and the shuttering of commercial banks and vital private businesses, plunging the country — which relies overwhelmingly on imports that require hard currency — deeper into economic and humanitarian crisis.” Similarly, they note that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has denied Afghanistan access to special reserve assets intended to help developing countries alleviate the impact of the pandemic.
The consequences of these policies for the Afghan people have been immediate and catastrophic. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned that “after decades of war, suffering and insecurity, [Afghans] face perhaps their most perilous hour,” imploring countries “to take action and inject liquidity into the Afghan economy to avoid collapse.” World Food Programme surveys indicate that 95 percent of Afghan households are not consuming enough food. The United Nations Development Program reports that Afghanistan will face “universal poverty by the middle of next year,” with the poverty rate expected to rise from 72 percent to as high as 98 percent. Afghanistan’s economic pain and humanitarian collapse both threaten to trigger a new refugee crisis throughout the region.
“No increase in food and medical aid can compensate for the macroeconomic harm of soaring prices of basic commodities, a banking collapse, a balance-of-payments crisis, a freeze on civil servants’ salaries, and other severe consequences that are rippling throughout Afghan society, harming the most vulnerable,” write the lawmakers. “We deplore the new Taliban government’s grave human rights abuses, crackdowns on civil society and repression of women and LGBTQ people. However, pragmatic U.S. engagement with the de facto authorities is nevertheless key to averting unprecedented harm to tens of millions of women, children and innocent civilians. Punitive economic policies will not weaken Taliban leaders, who will be shielded from the direct consequences, while the overwhelming impact of these measures will fall on innocent Afghans who have already suffered decades of war and poverty.”
The lawmakers note that engagement with the Taliban to coordinate central bank access to urgently needed hard currency can provide the necessary leverage to secure human rights improvements, and that a failure to avert economic catastrophe in Afghanistan creates risks to U.S. national security, by deterring Taliban cooperation on counterterrorism efforts, fueling anti-American resentment, and creating ungoverned spaces fertile for militant groups to seize. “U.S. economic policy should not undermine the national-security imperative of seeking stability in Afghanistan, and instead should minimize the risk of threats emanating from the country,” the lawmakers conclude. “We stand ready to work closely with you as you expeditiously review current U.S. policy in light of the extraordinary economic and humanitarian risks confronting the people of Afghanistan.”
Representatives Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), and Sara Jacobs (CA-53) were joined by Representatives Alma Adams (NC-12), Karen Bass (CA-37), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Donald S. Beyer Jr. (VA-08), Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D (NY-16), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Cori Bush (MO-01), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), André Carson (IN-07), Judy Chu (CA-27), Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Debbie Dingell (MI-12), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Teresa Leger Fernández (NM-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Al Green (TX-09), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (GA-04), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Kaiali’i Kahele (HI-02), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Andy Levin (MI-09), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Marie Newman (IL-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Katie Porter (CA-45), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Mark Takano (CA-41), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Juan Vargas (CA-51), and Nydia Velázquez (NY-07).