While our Federal Reserve makes decisions in closed door meetings and resists efforts of Congress to order an audit, it’s got nothing on the Afghanistan central bank when it comes to secrecy. For close to a decade, one of the main jobs of the central bankers in Afghanistan was not telling anyone where they had hidden all their gold.
The Wall Street Journal today tells the tale of Ameruddin Askarzai, the banker so intent on protecting the national treasure of Afghanistan that he even lied to Taliban government officials when asked at gunpoint about it. Can anyone imagine Ben Bernanke having that kind of fortitude?
Guns pressed against Mr. Askarzai’s temples as he dialed the combination, slid in the key and finally swung open the thick steel door. Before them lay stacks of silver and gold bricks — five to six decades old — that were part of the country’s foreign reserves. Further inside, behind another locked door, rested more than 21,000 pieces of the Bactrian treasure. Its worth was incalculable.
“What’s behind the other door?” a Taliban minister asked.
“Ceramic handicrafts,” said Mr. Askarzai, lying.
Nothing was removed during the quick inspection, according to Mr. Askarzai. Shutting the door, the otherwise cautious central bank official acted on impulse. He turned the key against the lock until a tooth broke off inside. The vault was sealed.
“I didn’t want them to take the gold outside the country and sell it,” Mr. Askarzai says. “It belongs to the people of Afghanistan.”
The Taliban leaders soon returned, fleeing ahead of the American invasion. This time, Mr. Askarzai said he couldn’t open the door. Guards fired into the air in fury, but the delegation left in haste. At a different vault beneath the central bank, the Taliban succeeded in carting away $4.5 million in cash, according to a central bank spokesman.
Mr. Askarzai was sent to jail, where he says he was beaten with a piece of metal attached to a rubber hose. After the Taliban regime collapsed, Afghanistan’s new leader, Mr. Karzai, sought someone who could issue money. They found Mr. Askarzai in jail. He had been there for three months and 19 days.
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