The former Afghan central bank chief says the Taliban can’t access most of country’s reserves.
The former acting governor of the Afghan central bank, who has fled the country, said on Wednesday that nearly all of the bank’s $9 billion in …
The former acting governor of the Afghan central bank, who has fled the country, said on Wednesday that nearly all of the bank’s $9 billion in reserves were beyond the reach of the Taliban, who took over the country’s government over the weekend.
Ajmal Ahmady, who was appointed to the central bank just over a year ago, said nearly all the money was held overseas, including $7 billion in assets by the Federal Reserve. In a series of Twitter posts, he added that $1.3 billion in assets were held by other international accounts and about $700 million were held by the Bank of International Settlements, which is based in Switzerland and acts as a bank for central banks.
“We can say the accessible funds to the Taliban are perhaps 0.1-0.2 percent of Afghanistan’s total international reserves,” he wrote. “Not much.”
On Tuesday, a Biden administration official said access has been blocked to Afghan central bank reserves held in the United States. This action, which was taken by the Treasury Department, will put economic pressure on the Taliban as they seek to keep public services operating.
Separately on Tuesday, a group of lawmakers sent a letter to the Treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, urging her to intervene in the scheduled release of $650 billion in International Monetary Fund emergency reserves this month. The allocation, of so-called special drawing rights, would potentially give Afghanistan and the Taliban access to $450 million.
On Wednesday, Mr. Ahmady wrote that Afghanistan was reliant on obtaining shipments of cash every few weeks because it had a large current account deficit. (Afghanistan imports about five times more goods than it formally exports.)
“The amount of such cash remaining is close to zero due a stoppage of shipments as the security situation deteriorated, especially during the last few days,” Mr. Ahmady wrote.
On Friday, the central banker received a call saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of U.S. dollars, though the next one was supposed to arrive on Sunday. On Saturday, Afghan banks requested large amounts of dollars to keep up with customer withdrawals, but Mr. Ahmady said he had to limit the currency that could be sent to the banks to conserve the central bank’s supply. He said it was the first time he made such a move.
Mr. Ahmady added that he told President Ashraf Ghani about the currency shipments being canceled and that the Afghan president then spoke with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Though he said the shipments were approved “in principle,” they never arrived the next day.
“Please note that in no way were Afghanistan’s international reserves ever compromised,” he wrote.
Without access to these reserves, Mr. Ahmady wrote, the Taliban will probably have to put capital controls in place and limit access to dollars, beginning a cycle in which the national currency, known as the afghani, will depreciate and inflation will rise rapidly. On Tuesday, the afghani reached a record low of 85.4 to the U.S. dollar, but appreciated about 3 percent on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg data.