The scale of the human tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan is hard to comprehend. The economy has collapsed, some 20 million people face death by starvation and international agencies like the World Food Programme have already doubled their estimate of what they will need just to keep people alive.
They are appealing now for a staggering $2.4 billion (£1.8 billion) to get food stocks into position and keep a pipeline of supplies into the country through the winter. There have been reports of parents selling their babies and there are scenes of daily humiliation as people pile up household goods in the street to try to sell for scraps of food. The banks have hardly any cash to circulate and the Taliban have added to an acute liquidity crisis by banning the use of foreign currency. In many parts of Afghanistan, Pakistani Rupees have been commonly used until now.
Faced by this looming catastrophe there have been appeals to the United States to make cash available. One relatively simple move would be to unfreeze the $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets currently locked in US accounts. Some, like the prominent anti-corruption campaigner with long ties to Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes, have naively argued that there should be conditions attached to any release of cash. But so far the Taliban have shown they have no interest in complying with any foreign demands, not least by side-lining leaders America thought it could do business with in favour of the hardline jihadists of the Haqqani network, who hold senior positions in the Afghan government even though they are on US wanted lists. These are not men who care about adhering to standards demanded by the US. Withholding cash to try to encourage the Taliban to behave better would be like ‘starving Afghan people in order to give them a better life,’ according