Taliban seizes $12.4 million from ex-officials as the cash-strapped militant group desperately looks for an influx of money

Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan September 1, 2021.
Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
  • The Taliban took more than $US12 ($AU16) million in cash and gold from former government officials.
  • A large chunk of the money was found at the house of the former vice president, AFP reported.
  • Afghanistan’s banks are facing a money shortage and may have to close to the public soon.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Afghanistan’s central bank said the Taliban took more than $US12 ($AU16) million in cash and gold from former Afghan government officials as the country faces a financial squeeze, AFP reported on Wednesday.

A large chunk of the money was found at the house of former vice president Amrullah Saleh, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, Reuters said on Wednesday.

“The money recovered came from high-ranking officials… and a number of national security agencies who kept cash and gold in their homes,” the central bank said in a statement, and urged Afghans to make all transactions in the local currency.

“All Afghans in the government and non-governmental organizations are asked to use Afghani in their contracts and economic transactions,” it said.

Afghanistan’s banks are facing a money shortage and may have to close to the public soon unless the Taliban release more funds.

The cash shortage has gone on for weeks and bankers fear the situation could lead to inflated food and electricity prices.

To try and salvage assets belonging to the previous government, the central bank asked local banks to freeze the accounts of certain individuals linked to the previous government, Reuters said.

Meanwhile, the Taliban has been unable to get its hands on the Afghan central bank’s nearly $US10 ($AU14) billion in reserves. Most of the central bank’s $US9.5 ($AU13) billion in assets, some of which are held in New York, were frozen by the US in August after the Afghan government collapsed.

Without the money, the Taliban lacks sufficient funding. And the Taliban may never see those locked funds, Insider previously reported.

Foreign aid has dried up in Afghanistan now that the US and its Western allies have pulled their forces out. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank also halted financial support to Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

The Taliban is facing an economic crisis, and needs help fast.

China has stepped in to fill in at least some of the void left in the wake of the US withdrawal, recently pledging to offer $US31 ($AU42) million worth of aid to Afghanistan. A Taliban spokesperson in early September referred to China as its “most important partner.”

“It is ready to invest and rebuild our country,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said at the time.

China on Wednesday called for Afghan government funds held outside of the country to be unfrozen.

“Those assets belong to Afghanistan and the Afghan people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, per ABC News.

“The U.S. should face up to Afghanistan’s justified and reasonable appeals, abandon imposition of sanctions and pressure and not hinder Afghanistan’s economy, livelihood and peaceful reconstruction,” Zhao added.

Pakistan, whose relationship with the Taliban has frequently been scrutinized by Western governments, has also offered aid.

Meanwhile, the UN in recent days has issued warnings of the potential for a dire humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres during an emergency donor conference on Monday said the Afghan people “need a lifeline.”

“After decades of war, suffering and insecurity, they face perhaps their most perilous hour,” Guterres said, emphasizing that one in three Afghans don’t know where their next meal will come from.

The international community pledged more than $US1 ($AU1) billion in aid to Afghanistan the meeting. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, said that the US will offer $US64 ($AU87) million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

But there are concerns that the Taliban will interfere with the distribution of aid, which Thomas-Greenfield acknowledged.

“We have all heard the reports that the Taliban are obstructing and interfering in aid delivery and protection efforts, prohibiting female staff from saving lives, and even exacting retribution against people benefiting from aid or providing it,” the ambassador said at the high-level UN meeting. “That is frightening and unacceptable, and, frankly, destabilizing to Afghanistan and to the region. It cannot continue.”

The Taliban has sought to present itself as a more moderate entity than it was in the past since taking over the country, including assuring the safety of humanitarian workers, but the UN has warned that the militant group’s words don’t match its actions.

The US has not formally recognized the new Taliban-controlled government in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week told lawmakers that whether or not the US recognizes the Taliban depends on its “conduct” moving forward.

“The legitimacy and support that it seeks from the international community will depend entirely on its conduct,” Blinken said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.