What does the issuance of additional general licenses mean for Afghanistan?

New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Anas MallickUpdated: Dec 25, 2021, 04:15 PM IST

File photo: A Taliban fighter guards a street in Kabul, Afghanistan Photograph:(Reuters)

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The United States has pledged a total of $474 million as aid for Afghanistan, the most by any country

The United States has issued at least five general licenses which basically enables US citizens, aid organisations, and other organizations to do transfers into Afghanistan for “specified purposes”. But what do these general licenses mean, here is a breakdown.

The first general license, general licenses number 15 was issued on September 24 this year, it gave an exemption in fact an authorisation to do transactions related to exportation or re-exportation of agricultural commodities, medicines, medicinal devices, replacement of parts, and/or components and even software upgrades.

The agricultural commodity was further defined and so were the medicines and medicinal devices in the order.

The perception US gave through the first license was that it was willing to facilitate the people of Afghanistan who continued to live a miserable life in the war-torn country following the Taliban takeover.

Two and a half months later, the month of December 2021 saw the US showing more leniency, in the first general license issued for the month of December and the second general license on Afghanistan overall, license number 16 authorized the transfer of non-commercial and personal remittances to Afghanistan.

On December 22, the United States issued three more general licenses to facilitate the people of Afghanistan and authorized the US government employees, grantees, or contractors to do transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network-related entities, for official business purposes in the general license number 17.

On the same date, the general licenses number 18 authorised The United Nations, including its programmes, funds, and other entities and bodies, as well as its specialised agencies and related organisations, The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA); The African Development Bank Group, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Inter-American Development Bank Group (IDB Group), including any fund entity administered or established by any of the foregoing; The International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; and The Islamic Development Bank to do transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network as entities for official business purposes.

The last general license issued by US Treasury on Afghanistan taking its tally of general licenses on Afghanistan to five, that is, the general license number 19 which basically took the handcuffs off from aid organizations authorised transactions with the Taliban or Haqqani Network as entities for; Activities to support humanitarian projects to meet basic human needs in Afghanistan, including drought and flood relief; food, nutrition, and medicine distribution; the provision of health services; assistance for vulnerable or displaced populations, including individuals with disabilities, the elderly, and survivors of sexual- and gender-based violence; and environmental programs; Activities to support the following in Afghanistan: rule of law, citizen participation, government accountability and transparency, human rights and fundamental freedoms, access to information, and civil society development projects; Activities to support education in Afghanistan, including combating illiteracy, increasing access to education, international exchanges, and assisting education reform projects; Activities to support non-commercial development projects directly benefitting the Afghan people, including related to health, food security, and water and sanitation; and Activities to support environmental and natural resource protection in Afghanistan, including the preservation and protection of threatened or endangered species, responsible and transparent management of natural resources, and the remediation of pollution or other environmental damage.

The other more pertinent question is that why a need for the general license was there be issued, the answer to that is that since the Taliban are currently a listed organization, both at the UN and the US, therefore any direct transactions would not be possible as per law, however, these general licenses act as an enabler or exemption for an undefined period.

The United States has pledged a total of $474 million as aid for Afghanistan, the most by any country. Earlier this week, A senior US official told this correspondent that the US had quietly been working behind the scenes with the UN and other international organisations to pump cash into the Afghan system, an example of which was the $200 million pumped into the Afghan system for the use of the UN employees, very recently.

These licenses were mirrored by the United Nations Sanctions Committee through a resolution on the same day as well which means that under the UN charter, this allows UN member countries to do business with the Taliban or Haqqani under the set parameters as defined earlier.

The guidelines to do business with the Taliban are very clearly laid out, that it must be on an entity basis and not on individual basis, so while the entities might be headed by proscribed individuals, business with the office is allowed but not with the individual.

To simply put it, as an example, Sirajuddin Haqqani of the Haqqani Network might be a listed individual by the US and the UN both, the other reality is that Sirajuddin Haqqani is also the Minister of Interior of Taliban ruled Afghanistan, so while the transfer would not be permitted to Sirajuddin Haqqani as an individual, his ministry can very well have funds or transactions under these set of rules, as defined in the general licenses issued.

The Taliban and international community have been long-pressing the United States to release the “frozen Afghan assets it houses” following the Taliban takeover of the country, however, a senior US official clarifying the situation said that the US has no magic button to release these assets as they were being held back due to a court order.