By Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday formally exempted U.S. and U.N. officials doing official business with the Taliban from U.S. sanctions, clearing the way for proposed U.N. payments next year of some $6 million to the Islamists for security.
The U.S. Treasury Department announcement came a day after Reuters exclusively reported a U.N. plan to subsidize the monthly wages of Taliban-run Interior Ministry personnel who guard U.N. facilities and pay them monthly food allowances.
Some experts said the proposal raised questions about whether such payments would violate U.N. and U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and on many of their leaders, including Sirajuddin Haqqani, the Interior Ministry chief and head of the Haqqani network.
The Treasury Department issued two general licenses allowing U.S. officials and those of certain international organizations, like the United Nations, to engage in transactions involving the Taliban or Haqqani network as long as they are official business.
A third general license gives nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) protection from U.S. sanctions on the Taliban and the Haqqani network for work on certain kinds of projects, including humanitarian programs for “basic human needs,” rule of law and education.
A senior U.S. administration official emphasized that while the United States was issuing the licenses, the Taliban would have to make decisions about how they operate the government to prevent a complete economic collapse.
“What we can attempt to do, what we’re going to work to do, is to mitigate the humanitarian crisis by getting resources to the Afghan people, and these general licenses will allow us to allow organizations that are doing this work to do exactly that,” the official told reporters.
The Treasury, however, warned the new general licenses do not allow financial transfers to the Taliban or the Haqqani network “other than for the purpose of effecting the payment of taxes, fees, or import duties, or the purchase or receipt of permits, licenses, or public utility services.”
The economic crisis in Afghanistan accelerated when the Taliban seized power in August, as the former Western-backed government collapsed and the last U.S. troops withdrew.
The United States and other donors cut financial assistance on which the country became dependent during two decades of war with the Islamist militants, and more than $9 billion in Afghanistan’s hard currency assets were frozen.
The United Nations is warning that nearly 23 million people – about 55% of the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly 9 million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished landlocked country.
While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about U.S. sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)