The Biden administration does not plan to release billions of dollars of Afghan government assets held by the country’s central bank anytime soon, the US special envoy for Afghanistan, Tom West said Monday.
Citing concerns the funds could end up in the hands of terrorists after the leader of al-Qaeda was killed while hiding out in Kabul, West said: “We do not see recapitalization of the Afghan central bank as a near-term option.”
He said “the Taliban’s (IEA) sheltering of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have regarding diversion of funds to terrorist groups.”
CNN reported that a National Security Council spokesperson said “there has been no change” in efforts to get the funds to the Afghan people, but cited Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul as having a direct impact on how the administration deals with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).
“We have been engaged with foreign counterparts in efforts to support the establishment of an international trust fund with robust safeguards to enable the use of Afghan reserves for the benefit of the Afghan people given Afghanistan’s ongoing economic and humanitarian crisis,” the NSC spokesperson said.
“We have made considerable progress and our focus right now is on supporting the establishment of this fund. The recent revelations of the Taliban’s (IEA) flagrant violation of the Doha agreement illustrate the importance of remaining clear-eyed in our dealings with the Taliban. Our approach to the future of these assets will continue to reflect that reality.”
This decision not to move on the releasing of the funds anytime soon comes about six months after US President Joe Biden signed an executive order allowing for the $7 billion in frozen assets from Afghanistan’s central bank to eventually be distributed inside the country and to potentially fund litigation brought by families of victims of the September 11 terror attacks.
The funds were frozen by the US government after the Afghan government collapsed last year and the IEA took over control of the country.
Samanagan almond farmers happy with this year’s yield
Samangan officials said local farmers have reported a substantial increase in almond crops and that they collectively stand to earn more than 1.1 billion afghanis from this year’s harvest.
Samangan Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock Department director Najibullah Joya said: “During the last few days, the officials of this department have visited various parts of the province, where the most almond orchards are located.”
He said the estimated volume to be harvested will be about 4,620 tons, compared to last year’s 2,887 ton harvest.
“According to their calculations, gardeners will earn more than 1.1 billion afghanis from the sale of almond crops,” he said.
Meanwhile, dried fruit and nuts traders welcomed the increase.
One trader, Haji Naqibullah, from Aybak city said: “This year, Samangan almonds have a high yield,” adding that he has bought more than 50 tons of almonds already from farmers and sold them on.
Samangan officials said 40% of Samangan almonds are sold domestically while 60% are exported by companies and traders to India, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
New road, rail link sees Chinese cargo arrive in Hairatan after only 11 days
The first load of freight from China to Afghanistan on a new road and rail route transiting Central Asia arrived in Hairatan, in northern Afghanistan, on Thursday.
Twelve containers, carrying mostly vehicle parts, took only 11 days to reach Afghanistan.
The new multimodal route starts in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province then passes through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan before entering Afghanistan.
The cargo traveled along the first stage – around 500 kilometers from the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang to Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan – by road since there is no rail link, although one is planned eventually.
The first containers left Kashgar on September 13, the RailFreight.com website reported.
At Osh, the cargo was loaded onto trains to link up with Uzbekistan’s rail network across the border in Andijan.
They then crossed eastern Uzbekistan and headed south into Afghanistan to arrive at Hairatan, which links with the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif along an Uzbek-built railway line.
The journey on the new route took only 11 days – compared to one to three months for the current route used to send cargo from China to Afghanistan through Pakistan via the seaport of Karachi and overland.
China and Afghanistan have been trying to get a rail connection off the ground for years.
In 2016, the first cargo train traveled from China to Hairatan through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, loaded with textiles and household goods. But it took another three years before any cargo moved back along the route to China, when a train loaded with talcum powder made the journey in 2019.
The route across Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is now undergoing a three-month pilot, and should eventually carry some 4,000 containers annually.
History in the making as 18 tons of pine nuts to be shipped overland to Italy
The Ministry of Industry and Trade said Thursday that a local company was preparing to export 18 tons of pine nuts to Italy overland.
According to ministry officials, the private company meets international standards and will dispatch its consignment within the next few days.
Officials also said in the first three months of this year, $19 million worth of pine nuts was exported and that there is a growing demand for the local produce.
It is estimated that Afghanistan harvests around 30,000 tons of pine nuts every year.
However, this Italian-bound consignment will for the first time be shipped overland via Turkey.
“This is a new export by land, which will be exported from Afghanistan to Turkey first, and then to Italy, and now we have the capacity to prepare our products according to the standards of European markets,” said Abdulsalam Akhundzada Jawad, the spokesman of the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
In the past, pine nut distributors have complained about the export process as the produce was first sent to Pakistan and from there sold on to international buyers.
The Chamber of Industries and Mines says that 30,000 tons of pine nut oil is produced annually in the country and is exported to China, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India and Pakistan by air and land.
“We consider it important to export Afghan black pine nuts to Italy, and since there is a high export capacity in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Industry and Trade should provide the conditions for export,” said Mohammad Karim Azimi, executive director of the Kabul Chamber of Industries and Mines.
Economic experts say that if the Ministry of Industry and Trade solves the transit problems faced by exporters, Afghanistan will be able to substantially increase sales of dry and fresh fruits to international markets.
“Exporting black pine nuts to European markets is very important. Besides black pine nuts, we have other very important trade and export items in the country, which should be provided for export, which is considered very important for the Afghan economy,” said Taj Mohammad Tala, an economic analyst.
Following the collapse of the former government, air cargo corridors used for exporting fresh produce were stopped. However, business owners are hopeful that newly launched overland trade corridors will now fill the gap and open up even wider markets.
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