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Afghan Central Banker Tells Reuters Limited Access To Reserves Should Be Allowed

Afghans lined up to withdraw money from banks in Kabul on September 1 as financial institutions imposed limits of $200 in withdrawals per week.

A senior board member of Afghanistan's central bank has told Reuters that the U.S. Treasury and the International Monetary Fund should take steps to provide the Taliban-led government limited access to the country's reserves as the country lurches toward a possible economic disaster.

Shah Mehrabi, an economics professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a member of the bank's board since 2002, told Reuters in a telephone interview on September 1 that Afghanistan faces an "inevitable economic and humanitarian crisis" if its international reserves estimated at almost $10 billion remain frozen by President Joe Biden's administration.

"If the international community wants to prevent an economic collapse, one way would be to allow Afghanistan to gain limited and monitored access to its reserves," he said, noting the opinion came as a central bank board member and was not a statement from the Taliban militants who now rule almost all of the country.

Most of the reserves are held in the United States and not at the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) in Kabul.

The Taliban took over Afghanistan with astonishing speed, culminating with the fall of Kabul on August 14. The United States and its allies evacuated more than 123,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans out of the country before an August 31 deadline for foreign troops to withdraw from the country, leaving the Taliban to return to power two decades after being removed by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Mehrabi said the United States should allow the new Afghan government to access a limited amount of the money each month. The disbursements, maybe in the range of of $100 million to $125 million at the beginning, would be monitored by an independent auditor, he added.

"Having no access will choke off the Afghan economy, and directly hurt the Afghan people, with families pushed further into poverty," Mehrabi said.

On August 31, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned of a looming “humanitarian catastrophe” in Afghanistan as he urged countries to provide emergency funding for the war-torn nation.

Based on reporting by Reuters