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tv   Hearing on Humanitarian Situation in Afghanistan  CSPAN  March 1, 2022 2:48pm-4:16pm EST

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c-span 3, or full coverage on our video app, c-span now. c-span is your unfiltered view of government, we're funded by these television companies and more, including cox. cox is committed to providing eligible families access to affordable internet, through the connect to compete program, bridging the digital divide one student at a time. >> cox supports c-span as a public service as well as these other television providers, giving you a front-row seat to democracy. >> former british foreign secretary, now leader of international aid grurngs david miliband urged u.s. lawmakers to act urgently and change policy to address the humanitarian crisis in afghanistan, mr.
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miliban's plea came before testimony in a foreign nations subcommittee. this is just under 90 minutes.
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>> subcommittee to order today for a hearing on a critical topic, the humanitarian crisis in afghanistan. i'll start with a few opening remarks and turn it over to senator young to introduce the witnesses. i think we'll be joined by a number of colleagues so we'll try to be brief in our opening remarks. let me start by saying my belief is president biden made the right decision to remove our remaining troops from afghanistan. the american people, by a large margin, support that decision. the overnight collapse of the afghan army and the government was, to me, proof that 20 years of nation building had failed and another 20 years, frankly, was not going to end in a different result. the scenes of the withdrawal were hard to watch and there's
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no doubt mistakes were made. the state department and department of defense pulled off the largest air lift in history and anyone suggesting that the overnight unexpected collapse was not going to result in scenes of chaos is fooling themselves. the biden administration made what they could out of a terrible situation. this hearing today, of course, is not about that decision or the details of our withdrawal. today we are commanded to deal with the here and now. there is a growing humanitarian nightmare in afghanistan and it demands our nation's attention. living in afghanistan today is a nightmare and our witnesses will tell us more about this reality. in the middle of winter more than half the population, 23 million people, don't have enough food to eat. by the summer, 97% of afghans will be living below the poverty line trying to survive on less than $2 a day, with 9 million people just one step away from famine, this humanitarian crisis
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could kill more afghans than the past 20 years of war. once the u.s. military occupation and all the foreign aid that came with it disappeared, the afghan economy, predictably, collapsed. 75% of the afghan government's budget had come from foreign donors and that was rightfully held back in august to prevent it from going to the taliban, but no country can cope with the loss of 75% of sector support overnight, especially one that already was in dire straits. in this moment of crisis, the international organizations on the ground are racing to scale up the humanitarian response. a few weeks ago the u.n. released an appeal for $4.4 billion to meet the humanitarian need in afghanistan. this is the largest single u.n. -- the largest single country u.n. appeal in history and that tells you something about the scale of this crisis. it's larger than what we've seen in syria, yemen or ethiopia and i support the decision to
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dedicate an additional $308 million to afghanistan. congress should, frankly, authorize more. the humanitarians cannot be expected to do it all. no doubt they're going to do everything they can to keep people alive but it's the country's economic crisis that is threatening to collapse afghanistan into a nightmarish failed state. addressing that crisis without empowering the taliban is going to require creative thinking and political courage. and i don't want to sugar coat the dilemma that we face and that we'll talk about today. on one hand, we warned the taliban not to take over the government by force and that by doing so would collapse the economy and run the risk of afghanistan becoming an international pariah once again. their decision to charge ahead, knowing these risks, shows how they put their thirst for power over the welfare of the afghan people. and there is frankly moral hazard in putting billions in afghanistan right now.
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we can do our best to route it around the taliban, but there is no doubt the partial effect of aid is to save the taliban from itself. that is deeply distasteful. the united states has a lot to do with it. the collapse is due in part to two decades of u.s. midwifery and a policy that sometimes protected corrupt afghan governments that facilitated the growth of the taliban. and after the u.s. withdrew in august we froze afghanistan assets in the federal reserve, rightly to prevent that money from falling immediately into the hands of the taliban. but it's not our money, it's the afghan people's money and our sanctions against the taliban further con strain the economy in a nation that depends on imports or fuel, electricity and medicine, when you cut off the supply of u.s. dollars it limits their ability to pay for imported goods. so we have to admit that u.s. policy did contribute to the afghan economy contracting by 40% during the last year. so there's no good choice here.
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on one hand, we cannot unduly empower the taliban. we have to recognize the moral hazard. on the other hand, with families that we stood with for two decades facing defendant tugz and starvation, so we want to find ways to save lives without unreasonably empowering the taliban. we know it won't be easy, but it's worthwhile given the stakes and i would like to explore what those solutions could look like with our witnesses today. with that, let me turn to the ranking member, senator young. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i think it's incredibly important that we're holding this hearing and i'm grateful to see the pale dot across this significantly large chamber and see david milliband there, apologizing for the intimate
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atmospherics. mr. chairman, as you've outlined, the situation in afghanistan is deeply troubling, to me, to millions around the world. it's a terrible confluence of intersecting e events. first we have afghanistan, which has had a serious drought for two consecutive years, cutting the country's wheat output by 20%. second, covid-19 has contributed to a global decline in economic conditions, creating new stresses for the economy. third, afghanistan's harsh winter has set in, restricting movement and forcing families to choose between prioritizing food or warmth, with their limited resources. but, of course, all of these issues pale in comparison to what i think we could all agree is the central issue that's elevating this humanitarian crisis to tragic proportions. the taliban takeover of the
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country in august of last year, following our tragic withdraw and the subsequent economic collapse. as we all recognize, the taliban has been a specially designated global terrorist group since 2002, they were responsible for thousands of casualties of u.s. and nato service members, and countless afghan civilians during their decades of terror and carnage. the taliban continues to threaten afghanistan's stability and security and that's only too apparent now with this terrible crisis upon us. the u.s., the u.n., and partners throughout the world have rightly worked to cut off all financial resources from the taliban, haqqani network and other terrorist groups operating in afghanistan, imposing sweeping sanctions, travel restrictions, and equipment bans. now, we, of course, must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to deny the taliban any resources, financial or
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otherwise, they can use to conduct further acts of terror. the worst case scenario of all would be if humanitarian aid were diverted from legitimate recipients toward the taliban and its partners in terror. our senate foreign relations committee has held several meetings, both classified and unclassified, on the u.s. withdraw from afghanistan and i look forward to continued congressional inquiry into the process that led to that lamentable, to put it mildly, exit. but in the coming weeks i hope we can hear more from the administration directly regarding their planning and analysis of what the humanitarian response will be, following the collapse of the afghan government, and the subsequent withdraw of u.s. support and assistance. it hope we can hear from the administration as it considers a political path forward in afghanistan. that, of course, is not the focus of this hearing this afternoon. with our distinguished guests,
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we have to, instead, examine the reality of afghanistan as it is today under the taliban control, and with millions of everyday afghans struggling to survive under dire circumstances. this leaves the international community with a terrible dilemma. how do we support everyday afghans, including many who supported and contributed to u.s. efforts in the country, without rewarding, legitimizing or financing the taliban? how do we verify that humanitarian assistance is getting to the people who need it the most and is not being diverted to the taliban's own purposes? looking beyond this winter, there are broader questions about the long-term sustainability of afghanistan's economy. how can a country that depended on foreign aid for nearly half of its economy now rebuild? we should examine, too, how other strategic competitors are
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behaving. china, russia, pakistan and iran have no issue dealing directly with the terrorists in afghanistan. they'll gladly fill the power vacuum and prop up the taliban, and they have longer-term economic ambitions in the country as well. there are no easy answers. in today's hearing i look forward to understanding better the reality that donors and ngo partners are facing on the ground as they seek to relieve the suffering of afghanistan citizens. i hope this hearing also clarifies the key obstacles preventing aid from getting to the right people and i hope we can identify a path forward for engaging in an afghanistan ruled by the taliban. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator young. let's move to our witnesses. we have one in person and one remote. let me first introduce them both and then we'll begin with david
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milliband and then go to graeme young. mr. milliband is president and ceo of the international rescue committee where he oversees the agency's humanitarian relief operations in more than 40 countries. from 2007 to 2010 he was the foreign secretary for the united kingdom and he's great counsel to many of us. we're grateful for his testimony and appearance today via video. we have mr. graeme smith. a senior consultant out of afghanistan for the international crisis group who worked on the ground in afghanistan for nine years. he previously worked for the u.n. assistance mission in afghanistan, and as an international journalist. again, thank you to mr. milliband and to mr. smith for appearing. we'll begin with you, mr. milliband, and both of your full statements will be entered into the record. >> thank you very much, senator murphy, senator young.
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thank you very much, indeed, to both of you for your initiative in setting up this hearing. i'm really looking forward to answering your questions. i want to bring the voices of 3,000 international rescue committee staff across afghanistan into the halls of power today, but also try to speak to the needs of the clients that we serve, a million last year, and sadly many more need us today. six months ago afghanistan was a poor country, a very poor country, as senator young has rightly pointed out the climate crisis, the covid crisis added to that. however, today afghanistan is a starving country, not just a poor country. the reason i'm very sorry to report, the proximate cause of this starvation crisis is the international economic policy which has been adopted since august, and which has cut off financial flows not just to the public sector, but in the private sector in afghanistan as well.
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today afghanistan faces a catastrophe of choice, not choice in kabul, but choice in washington, london and berlin. i'm here to appeal to members of the subcommittee to lead the charge for an urgent change in u.s. and international policy. on monday i spoke to some of our staff across afghanistan. they begged me to be blunt with you today. current policy will indeed mean that the starvation crisis kills, as senator murphy rightly said, more afghans, than the most 20 years of war, which is an extraordinary indictment of the current policy mix. yes, it's true that afghanistan has been uniquely dependent on western support for 20 years, but that means that the end of public sector salary payments by the international community decimates living standards. the figures of 40% of the economy and 75% of government public spending coming from
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donors that senator murphy quoted is absolutely right. but the private economy has been frozen, too. the banking system has had its capital frozen, there's a liquidity crisis in the banking system. the value of the local currency has fallen by at least a quarter. bank branches lack cash and sanctions, which are meant to be on the taliban, end up freezing private sector activity. the impact of the current policy mix has therefore been fast and brutal, as it was predictable and preventable, and it leads to the statistics that senator murphy rightly quoted, the u.n. statistics that less than 2% of afghans will have enough to eat this winter. the testimony from my own staff is that media reports of young girls being sold into marriage are true, media reports of people having to sell their organs to feed themselves, also true. i do not believe, mr. chairman, that the united states or anyone else must choose between helping the people of afghanistan or helping the taliban.
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that's wrong. i won't argue today to help save the taliban from themselves, i'll argue for how we can make a difference to save afghans from being punished for the victory of the taliban last august. i'm going to suggest five areas where there is urgent need for action. the first, obviously, is in the humanitarian domain. the u.n. has called for $4 billion of funding. but i hope we can concentrate today on the economy, as senator murphy rightly said, because humanitarian aid will be running up an escalator that's going downwards faster and faster, unless the economy is brought back to life. and that will take the following four steps, in my view. first, the urgent release of the $1.2 billion in the world bank managed trust fund to support basic services like health and education, as well as civil servant salaries. these salary payments are not just an economic measure, they're a humanitarian measure
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because the people have not been paid since in some cases last april, in other cases august. secondly, to clarify the application of u.s. sanctions to private sector entities. there is welcome exemption for humanitarian activities, but little or no clarity about commercial activity. third, inject liquidity to help the economy function. starting with a phased release of frozen assets. i believe the u.s. should prioritize the release of private assets, not afghan government assets, private assets, and encourage european capitals to release the assets under their control, given the legal suits that are taking place in the united states and limit some freedom of maneuver. finally, the technical support for the central bank and the finance ministry is essential to run a macro economy. mr. chairman, i don't want to hide at all that afghanistan has been a source of tremendous pain over the last 20 years, but the afghan people have already paid the price of war. now they're being punished as
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the price of peace. and further collapse of the state, which will be the result of current policy, will only make things worse. that prospect is terrifying for afghans, but it should be a worry for americans and europeans concerned about security or migration flows, never mind their reputation in the international system. times are desperate in afghanistan today, and i hope the voices of our staff and clients can be heard. i look forward very much to answering your questions in this session with graeme smith, who has done some outstanding reporting on the crisis. >> thank you very much. mr. smith? >> chairman murphy, ranking member young, distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for inviting me to testify. i've worked in afghanistan since 2005. in previous years i listened to congressional hearings from kabul with gunfire in the background. the internet was not always good, but i heard enough to
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understand that the u.s. had ambitious plans for afghanistan. now the guns are silent and america has withdrawn. in the aftermath, the u.s. and its allies should not dwell on the lofty goals of past decades. now is the time for practical action. tens of millions of lives are at stake in the world's largest humanitarian crisis, as you've just heard from david milliband's heartbreaking testimony. u.s. and european envoys recently commit to do preventing the collapse of social services and, two, revive afghanistan's economy. urgent work is now necessary to achieve those two objectives. so goal number one, prevent the collapse of essential services. the united states has donated generously to emergency relief efforts, however such assistance is not enough because this is not a natural disaster. it is a manmade crisis,
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resulting from the end of the war and the economic isolation imposed by western governments. half a million government employees lack salaries. education, sanitation, agricultural services are not being delivered. supporting the public sector with existing funds is an initial remedy. the largest source of funding for civil servants before the taliban takeover was a world bank trust fund. it still holds $1.2 billion, which could be allocated immediately to social services. in particular, donors should fund education. the education system is the country's largest employer, but there's no plan for paying teachers in the coming school year. the u.n. has negotiated with the taliban to allow all-girl schools to reopen, but sustaining that momentum requires funding. goal number two, help with an economic revival, or at least do not stand in the way of an economic revival. the u.s. should ease
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restrictions on the afghan private sector, such as sanctions and asset freezes. to start with, the u.s. should permit the central bank to function. dab bank is cut off from the world, but afghanistan needs central banking to regulate its currency. the most straightforward solution would be reviving d.a.b. this might require technical assistance to keep the bank independent. the u.s. should also describe a path toward unfreezing the central bank's assets. billions of dollars in frozen assets remain stuck in legal proceedings, but the u.s. should signal an intention to some day return the funds to the central bank. in the meantime, as you've just heard, the u.s. could immediately return hundreds of millions of dollars that belong to private depositors, ordinary afghans, who have been deprived of their savings. more generally, the u.s. must reduce the impact of sanctions. recent humanitarian exemptions
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are praise worthy, however u.s. sanctions still choke the afghan economy. treasury cannot feasibly list every permitted sector in the afghan economy. instead, u.s. officials must forbid what is not allowed, for example, arms trafficking. unfortunately, many of these steps require cooperation with the taliban. that is hard and it is distasteful, especially as the taliban continue to flout human rights standards. months of talks between the taliban and western officials have not resulted in much progress, and the impasse is partly the taliban's fault. they have resisted reasonable demands such as allowing education for girls of all ages, however, the u.s. is also pushing unrealistic goals, such as an inclusive government. the taliban should select a more representative government to legitimize and stabilize their regime. however, considering the
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taliban's strength on the ground, the authorities in kabul feel justified in rejecting what they view as western meddling. the way forward is cooperation on narrow objectives. we can still dream of an afghanistan at peace with itself and the world, a country that recovers from war and sustains its own population. america had bigger plans at the beginning, but in the end these are the humble goals that can and must be achieved. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, both, for your questions. we've got votes on the floor so you'll see senators moving in and out. i'm going to ask one question and then defer to senator shaheen so she can get back to the floor. mr. milliband, mr. smith touched on this question of conditionality being applied to the release of the money being held and frozen by the united states today. he suggested that our demands
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seem unreasonable. at the same time, to many americans who feel like we've invested 20 years in trying to expand out the right to education for women and girls, i think they would expect that we would try to press for a protection of those advancements if we're going to release these dollars. i understand the pull and tug here. what do you make of suggestions that we should apply conditions to the release of the money that we currently hold, or to the dollars right now being held in the reconstruction fund? >> thanks. i think the answer to that question is conditions on what and conditions on which money. from our point of view, conditionality in respect of preventing starvation is an easy question to answer. there should be no conditions on actions to relieve a starvation crisis. and the situation in afghanistan today is such that the payment of public sector salaries and
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the functioning of the private sector economy are, frankly, nonnegotiable, because at the moment people can't feed themselves and they can't all be fed by the world food program. then there is a second question. you mentioned the afghan reconstruction trust fund. we are recommending that be used to pay the salaries of public servants, teachers. more than half of public servants in afghanistan are classified as teachers. nurses. at the moment, nurses in health clinics who are paid by ngos get paid. but if they're employees of the ministry of public health, they can't be paid. that doesn't make any sense at all given the danger of malnutrition and starvation crisis. also, water engineers. we've got nurses being supported in health clinics where there's no proper water or fuel to run the heating systems. that makes no sense at all. when it comes to the longer term, however, if we can get through this crisis, if we can relieve the economic pressure and get through to may, june,
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july, then i think there is a discussion to be had about the amount of support that the u.s. government is going to release and offer, which i think will be on a declining trend from the amounts of last year or suddenly the pre-august level. but there's a real trade-off here. the tougher and tighter you are on the release of assets to support the economy, the greater the danger that you'll end up with more humanitarian aid being needed. and the u.n. hasn't just launched an appeal for $4 billion of humanitarian aid this year. it's warned that unless there is a shift in the current trajectory, the humanitarian aid bill will be $10 billion next year. and that's why i think the question of conditionality needs to be addressed specifically to different types of activity and different types of money. >> thank you. i'll reserve the remainder of my questions for later. i'm going to amend my order and we'll go to senator young and then to senator van hollen.
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>> thank you, chairman murphy. mr. milliband and mr. smith, as we examine the u.s. response to the afghanistan humanitarian crisis, we shouldn't overlook the primary responsibility the taliban has for bringing us to this point. and i know no one here is. being the terrorist organization they are, they choose global conflict rather than welfare of their people. they now ostensibly govern and they've demonstrated little interest in renouncing their past or working with the international community in a constructive fashion. undoubtedly this is more of a challenge in terms of governing than the taliban anticipated when they took power. in your view, gentlemen, how is the taliban seeking to use this crisis for their own advantage?
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>> graeme, do you want to go first? >> sure, yeah. the taliban, as you know, signed an agreement with the united states in 2020, a major plank of that agreement was that the taliban promised america that afghan soil would never again be used in a hostile way outside of the territory of afghanistan. that is to say there will not be another 9/11, according to the terms of this agreement. and my understanding is the taliban are still extremely committed to that agreement, including the haqqanis within the movement. it's very well understood i think by conflict analysts that so far the taliban's ambitions lie squarely within the territory of their own country. they do have ambitions, as you say. they are very eager to round up
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all of the illegal weapons and they're trying to collect them and they're trying to raise money. in fact, i think they're doing a good job of collecting tax revenues. trade is down by half, but government revenues are holding steady, which means that the taliban are significantly less corrupt, very significantly less corrupt than the previous government, at least so far. i think one of the things that the international community will need to do is keep a very close watch, and america has very significant decisions coming up with the renewal of the mandate. the u.n. mission in afghanistan needs teeth. it needs a very serious ability to keep an eye on the taliban and make sure that they're making good on their promises. i appreciate your question. >> i'm sorry, mr. smith. thank you. i just want to toss this to mr. milliband briefly.
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mr. milliband, do you agree specifically that the taliban's ambitions lay squarely within the proper territory of afghanistan? is that something you would agree with? and do you further agree that the taliban is significantly less corrupt than the previous iteration of taliban leadership? >> well, the international rescue committee worked in afghanistan in the 1990s, during that period of taliban rule, as well as during the last 20 years. and putting my former hat on, i would agree with what graeme said, that the taliban's ambitions are confined to the territory of afghanistan. as you know, they've proclaimed islamic em rit. i do think it's important to say there are other forces in afghanistan that have wider ambitions, and obviously there's a great fear, because i served
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on the afghan study group that was convened by the u.s. institute of peace, and that raised a range of security questions relating to other groups beyond the taliban. secondly, i want to emphasize that we have been very clear with the taliban authorities that we will not take dictates about who we can employ. about half of our staff are women. they are in senior management positions, as well as in more junior roles. we've also made clear that we will not pay illicit levies or unofficial levies to them and they have encouraged us to carry on with our work according to the basis we have. i don't want to make a blanket statement. they have a lot to answer to, but i can also speak to the humanitarian work, that they are not at the moment interfering. >> that's quite helpful. thank you. chairman? >> senator van hollen.
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>> thank you, mr. chairman. welcome to both of you. and mr. milliband, if i can start with you, i appreciate the work of the international rescue committee in afghanistan and other places around the world. and the irc is very active in maryland. you have hubs both in silver spring, as well as in baltimore. in fact, my state office, one of my state offices in baltimore is the same building that houses the irc. so appreciate your good work. can you talk a little bit about the challenges you're facing right now, the irc, with respect to resettlement here in the united states? i know from the folks in your baltimore office that it's been a challenge. can you talk about that situation as well as more broadly what you're seeing here in terms of our resettlement efforts? >> sure. the international rescue committee is in a unique situation, since we work across afghanistan and we work across the united states with 25 offices here. thank you very much for the
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support you and your staff have offered. on the ground, we have been doing two main things over the last six months. first of all, working in partnership with the u.s. authorities to document the 70,000 afghans who arrived in a very short period in august and have been housed in government facilities. we did that work with about 450 staff, who we deployed from across our network and brought from outside. secondly, we're beginning the process of resettling afghans into american communities on the road to becoming, we hope, productive and patriotic citizens, if there is a proper provision made for them to go on a citizenship course. there are three main challenges that i would highlight for you. first, you'll know there's a very hot housing market in the united states at the moment, and that is putting severe strain on the ability of resettlement agencies to find affordable housing for afghans who arrive. secondly, the hot housing market doesn't equate, exactly, to where the jobs are, and these
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are people who have arrived with nothing and they are really struggling to get into the employment market. there's plenty of demand for labor, but not necessarily in the right places. thirdly, the resettlement network was shrunk over the years of the previous administration. it was really massively downgraded, and tooling up the resettlement network with the staff has been an enormous enterprise. for example, for the international rescue committee we resettle about 20% of all the refugees who come into america. more or less in the last three months we've resettled more people than in the whole of the previous year. so there's a massive strain on the system and that means that our staff are having to work very hard, but the afghans are having to be very patient because it's taken four or five months to get them out of government facilities. now some of them are staying in hotels for longer than anyone would want. >> so i appreciate that and we look forward to continuing to work with you on this effort. if i could just, in my remaining
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time, pick up on where senator murphy left off in terms of threading this needle, in terms of addressing the humanitarian needs of the afghan people. i think everyone is on board, at least most people are on board in terms of the international relief through international organizations directly to the people of afghanistan. i think it's also clear, and we need to be coordinated in this, that any steps toward any kind of normalization in the future with the taliban, which is very hard to envision today, requires meeting these conditions that we've laid out in terms of inclusive government, in terms of treatment of women and girls. there's this other debate going on, which you mentioned, which is, is there a way to thread the needle in terms of providing the ability of some of these funds that have been held to benefit the afghan people without, in any way, strengthening the hand of the afghan regime.
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can you just talk a little bit about that. and i don't know, mr. smith, if you have any views on that. >> i apologize that my previous answer used up a lot of your time, but maybe if the chairman is feeling generous he'll give me an extra 30 seconds on this one. look, i think it's more than possible to thread the needle, not just because we've done it before in afghanistan, but we've done it before in yemen and in libya and we've done it before in somalia. when we pay a nurse or when we pay a teacher or water engineer, we're not paying the regime. we're paying someone for their work and giving them a chance to support their family. and that is the challenge that we face today. but it's one that's eminently meetable. you referred to funds. the afghan reconstruction trust fund that the world bank has is there to be used and it needs to be used in a way that supports the economy, as well as delivers the pure humanitarian aid. the frozen assets, i appreciate that there are issues associated with the lawsuits that are pending, but at least half a billion worth of the assets
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belong, as graeme smith hinted, to private individuals and to corporations. it's afghan money, it's not our money. and so i would urgent very, very strongly that you see the interdependence of the humanitarian effort and the broader economic support for the country. because if the economy collapses, there's no way that the humanitarian system can cope. both need to get going, and actually if the private economy works well, we won't be in a situation in a year's time where 22 million people are dependent on the world food program for food. >> mr. milliband's conclusion on threading the needle? >> sure, maybe i can just reinforce everything mr. milliband said. i think he's absolutely correct. you can send bags of food, but
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more than that, you need to address the reason why people are hungry, which is the collapse of the economy, mostly due to western economic restrictions. so if you don't remove the chokehold on the afghan economy, there's really no point. you'll end up needing more and more bags of food. and i would just say maybe u.s. taxpayer dollars should not be used forever to feed afghans. the taliban should be able to create a self-sustaining economy in afghanistan so that western economic assistance is not required in the coming years. thank you. >> thank you. >> senator shaheen? >> well, thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you to you and senator young for holding this hearing this afternoon, and to mr. milliband and mr. smith. we very much appreciate your being here and the work that you're doing in afghanistan.
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and i certainly understand the arguments that you're both making for relieving some of the holds that the west has on the financial economy of the country, but what i'm having trouble with is how to advocate to pay teachers and to release those funds when the reports that we have are that schools are open, but not necessarily to girls and to young women. that while elementary grades seem to be open to girls, high school is much more problematic for girls. one of the things that i feel the best about over the 20 years of the united states' engagement in afghanistan was the number of girls who were able to go to
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school, the number of women in university, the number of women who participated in the economy of afghanistan. and what you're both saying to us is we should reopen that economy, but to men only. so tell me how this is going to work. why do we not have the ability to say to the taliban, we're happy to support the efforts to pay teachers and to re-integrate the economy, but you're telling us you're only going to do that for men, that you're not going to do it and give opportunities for women. so i don't understand how that works. >> senator shaheen, i truly applaud your passion on this issue and your support for afghan women. what i would love to do is host a session for you to just meet some of our afghan staff who are afghan women and let them answer your question. i'll tell you what they said to me on monday.
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one, how on earth does the west think they're helping our prospects when we can't feed our families. >> yeah, listen, i understand that. and whenever i'm asked about what we need to do, my first response is we need to provide humanitarian assistance to ensure that the people of afghanistan, the families of afghanistan are not starving. and i understand that that means to some extent we've got to thread the needle. but i really reject the premise that we should enshrine with the taliban their restrictive relationships with their citizens, and so i guess i don't understand how you thread that needle and provide some of those safeguards, at the same time we're trying to ensure that afghans can be fed. and i totally agree, that's got to be the number one priority. but what kind of leverage is
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there, then, to try and encourage the taliban to be more inclusive in what they're doing? >> well, i think the second thing i would say to you is that there are women who are in work, but they're at the moment not being paid. they're teachers, they're nurses, and we're dependent on their goodwill to turn up at the health clinics and at the schools. thirdly, i think you make an incredibly important point about the education of girls over the age of 13, you referred rightly to the high school. and a march is coming up. at the moment there's an easy excuse for the taliban authorities. they can say, well, there's no money to pay the teachers. actually, they've made a pledge that the schools will be open for girls over the age of 13 from march. let's pay the salaries of the teachers to make sure there are teachers in the schools to see whether that pledge is fulfilled. we've had private conversations
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that suggest it will be fulfilled. and so i can only put to you the arguments that are put to me by our own staff. they say nation building isn't your job, that's our job. but you can either help us or hinder us. and you won't help us, they say to me, by strangling the private economy, and you won't help us if you're not standing by our side and supporting a phased approach to the shift in the budget of the government of afghanistan away from western international aid toward its own resources. at the moment they feel we're tying their hands behind their back. >> well, again, i appreciate that argument, and i think we don't want to do that, but i also, based on the experience that we've had here, i don't believe the taliban, frankly. and so the question is, is there some sort of a phased reopening that would allow us to see if they're going to be as good as
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their word? because, so far, they have not been. >> i think that -- i very much appreciate your use of the word "phased". i've used that word both in respect to the trajectory of economic policy over the next three to five years. i think that also applies with respect to public support for government institutions, and i choose my words carefully, the payment of salaries, including to women as well as to men. and that is, indeed, being tested as we speak. the trouble is, the humanitarian crisis with the economic crisis is what is leading to the desperation of our women staff, as well as our male staff. and that's why they're asking for a very significant shift in approach. >> thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator shaheen. i would make an observation at this point. we need to be careful in
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releasing to the taliban is nearly $7 billion in afghan foreign reserves. i understand the motivations that some public-spirited and humanitarian colleagues and others would have as it relates to that. but there was a lawsuit brought by the families of 9/11 victims, and i believe they have a legitimate claim to those funds. they certainly, i think, deserve the right to make that claim. i would note that there have been many public reports on china seeking deeper engagement with the taliban and stepping up with humanitarian assistance this winter. so a question for either of our witnesses. how are the chinese communist party, as well as other regional partners, pakistan, iran, russia, for example, stepping up
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to assist, and how might your organizations be partnering with these countries? >> graeme, do you want to go first? >> yes, certainly. so far, the region, russia, china, are taking a rather cautious approach. they're accepting the taliban as the de facto authorities in afghanistan, but not recognizing them diplomatically. no country in the world has recognized them. they are not stepping in to feed the afghan people and they are saying that the west needs to release the economic restrictions so that afghans can feed themselves. china does have interest in investing in afghanistan. there's a very large gold and copper deposit near kabul they would like to invest in. but business can't get off the ground. the afghan economy cannot become
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self-sufficient while these economic restrictions are in place. so it's not a feasible investment at the moment. private business is not allowed to thrive right now in afghanistan. >> i would just add a couple things to that. first, there's an unusual alignment of interests between iran, china, russia, central asia, and the u.s., which is for counterterrorism and for internal economic stability. secondly, the interests of iran and pakistan are especially important given the migration challenges that they face. "the new york times" reported in october 1 million afghans had gone into iran, 80% of them to be returned. pakistan very worried about an unanticipated flow of people with 2.5 million afghans already in pakistan and the asylum questions are quite serious. thirdly, we haven't seen any humanitarian aid ourselves from the chinese communist party and
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we've had no proposals to partner with us. but there's no question that they see afghanistan as very important to regional stability and to their own regional interests. >> well, that's actually an important point, i think, mr. milliband, and we mustn't forget, where there's an alignment of interest in these situations, we lead to leverage that and to, you know, going ahead and seeking stability in this instance. there are a number of financial institutions that made the choice to leave afghanistan altogether. they simply don't trust the taliban and don't want to be associated with them. i probably share most of their concerns, frankly, and respect their right to weigh the risks of operating in such a volatile country. but what has been your experience, i ask both of our witnesses, engaging with banks
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and private financial actors supporting humanitarian relief in afghanistan, and as you speak to your experience, you might consider, absent international financial linkages to afghanistan, what alternatives might there be to delivering aid to afghanistan? thank you. >> graeme, do you want to pick that up or do you want me to go? >> sure. i was chatting with a bank ceo in kabul very recently who was saying that he was one of the very few who stuck around. you're right that a lot of them left. i think that the u.s. treasury is already having conversations with banks about getting back in the game in afghanistan, because, you know, there needs to be a banking sector. otherwise you're just dealing with underground money changers and that doesn't help anyone, especially from the point of view of tracking illicit flows of money. so i think it's in the united states' interest and afghanistan's interest to have a
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legitimate banking sector get going again. and the ceo was telling me what really needs to happen is the central bank needs to start operating again. so you mentioned earlier the dangers of returning the reserves to the taliban. i have to tell you, senator, nobody is proposing that. they're proposing to return the reserves to the owner of the reserves, which is the central bank of afghanistan. and there are laws that restrain what they can do with the reserves. those are only for managing the currency. that doesn't go into a taliban piggy bank. this is to make sure that the paper money in circulation in the country has value. >> i'll have to think more about that. so you're making the argument that this separation of powers, as it were, between their central bank and the taliban government will -- i suppose it's a judgment call informed by experience, that that will be respected if the funds are released? i don't want to speak for you, but is that accurate?
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>> i don't want to guarantee that it's respected. i think there needs to be insistence on transparency. i think what folks at treasury are talking about is an idea of ring fencing providing safeguards around the central bank. i think it probably needs some more technical expertise. there probably need to be some people with ph.d.s and economics on the top floors of the central bank to keep things running. it needs to run. >> just one point here, because this is very important and i'm sure there are others watching these proceedings. i think it's important that counsel to the families, victims, are comfortable with the release of funds. i'm sure they could make robust arguments. and indeed, as you say, the money could be separated, protected, then my expectation would be that the families would be comfortable. if they're not comfortable, that
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suggests maybe there is a lack of confidence that the monies will be preserved. mr. milliband, do you have anything to add on that? then i'll pass it back to the chairman. >> well, obviously, the pain of the 9/11 families goes to the heart of the last 20 years and i don't think anyone would want to do anything that stood in the way of the legal and moral rights of those people. >> mr. milliband, just pull the microphone a little closer to you. >> i was just speaking to the unspeakable trauma that's been experienced over the last 20 years by the 9/11 victims and their families, and obviously that's predominantly american, but also international. now, i can speak to the fact that in ministries that we deal with there are technicrats who
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have build expertise. we don't deal with the central bank, so i don't deal with that. and it's important they stay in the country because the country has to function. i can speak secondly to the issue of the banking system, and with the full agreement of our donors, we now have to work not through the banking system to pay our staff, but through local money brokers, and that's done in a transparent way and it's done in a way that's above board, but it incurs costs that wouldn't otherwise be faced in a more normal situation. it's an abnormal situation, afghanistan, for all sorts of reasons. but especially at the moment there has been no example that i've come across of an economic contraction of the speed and scale that afghanistan has faced and that's what's put the extraordinary pressure on the humanitarian effort. >> thank you so much. >> mr. milliband, you had on your opening list this issue of
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making sure that humanitarian operations have the necessary space inside afghanistan, and i will often hear pro-sanctions advocates when they are envisioning the impact of u.s. sanctions on syria or venezuela, afghanistan, on civilians to tell us the sanctions come with the ability for treasury to be able to issue these general licenses for humanitarian work. and that's how you fix the problem of civilians being adversely affected by sanctions that are primarily in place to try to affect government decisions. can you tell us a little bit about whether these general licenses are sufficient in afghanistan and what more we need to do in order to make sure that we are allowing humanitarian operations to continue?
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>> yeah, i mean, the licenses have been helpful, the u.s. issued them in september and then the u.n., with american support, in december. they're helpful, but they're not sufficient. and you can see they're not sufficient by the mounting number of people who are malnourished or at the international phase of food classification of four, which is one short of famine that you quoted. this goes to the heart of the point that graeme smith made, which is rather than trying to list all the activities that are allowed, it's far better to list the activities that are prescribed and say everything else is okay. and we've got to engineer a flip in the presumption about economic engagement with afghanistan. because at the moment anyone outside of the country is running away from the country when it comes to doing business with the country. and given that afghanistan is import dependent, that is a recipe for the kind of disaster we've got at the moment. licenses on their own cannot do the job. and just to give you a simple example, it's easy to get an
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answer to the question on the treasury website, is it okay for humanitarian agencies to import fuel into afghanistan? the answer is yes. it's very hard to get answers to the question, is it okay for a private enterprise to import machine parts into afghanistan? that's not a sustainable state of affairs. >> mr. smith, i wanted to talk to you about one specific idea, and that is a humanitarian exchange facility. it's an idea that's been proposed by the united nations and the idea is to try to address this liquidity crisis in afghanistan, as in many other countries in crisis, many international suppliers who are importing goods demand to be paid in u.s. dollars. but since the taliban took over the country, shipments of u.s. dollars were effectively stopped to avoid that money falling into taliban hands. and so the u.n. has proposed
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this sort of regulated exchange facility where you could exchange afghan currency for u.s. dollars in order to at least facilitate these economic activities that are vitally necessary to continue the economy running. what do you think of this idea? is it sufficient? is it something that the united states should get behind? >> it's a great idea. it is not sufficient. it should be set up quickly and nobody should be under any illusions that this substitutes for the normal functioning of a central bank. i'm glad that you've highlighted that this is about making import deals so that people can feed themselves, because, you know, it's not just that we want private business to run in afghanistan because we like private business. these are businesses that feed the people. the calories that afghans consume on a daily basis come in across the borders, and nobody can load up a truckful of paper
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afghanis and drive it across the border to make a deal to buy wheat flour. they need u.s. dollars to make those deals. and the humanitarian exchange facilities, that's one quick and easy way of getting some u.s. dollars into the market, but it's not nearly sufficient. you know, before august the central bank was running currency auctions three times a week, something like $50 million a shot. we're talking about very large amounts of u.s. dollars required so that the people can eat. >> and one question, mr. smith, to follow up on your exchange with senator young about the central bank, i hear loud and clear both of your cautions on applying overly restrictive, unrealistic conditions to the release of funding, but it did sound, mr. smith, as if you were open to the possibility of applying conditions relative to the guarantee of independence of
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the central bank, that they would want to make sure if we were going to release billions of dollars to the central bank, that it continues to operate independently and is not, as soon as we transfer the money in, taken over by the taliban to become its political arm or a political arm. >> absolutely. there is a giant-sized accountability challenge now. no matter what happens next in afghanistan, we need a lot of people on the ground holding the taliban's feet to the fire, making sure that there's transparency, making sure the fight against corruption actually works. this is why i emphasized in one of my earlier points that as you're standing up with the mission on the ground, you need a large risk analysis unit, people who understand the economy, because otherwise this is going to be a boondoggle of monumental proportions. >> and last question for both of
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you. what do you both understand as to the current decisionmaking structure within the taliban? i think part of the reluctance to engage is an inability to understand how decisions get made. this is not a government that functions like others we deal with. unclear how many decisions get elevated to the supreme leader, which decisions are made at the local level, which decisions are made at the national level. what do we understand right now about how to best engage with the taliban if the united states made the decision to engage on a question like this one, the independence of the central bank? who are you talking to? are you talking to the government in place? are you trying to get a direct line to the supreme leader? what is the best way to get decisions that will hold made by the taliban? >> so a good friend of mine wrote his ph.d. about the process of negotiating humanitarian access with the taliban in the 1990s and i think
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some of the same lessons still apply because some of the same taliban are still in power. his conclusion was you can't make big grand bargains. there will be no single deal with the taliban that ends all deals, because deals because, you know, it's the taliban, and we don't trust them, and they don't trust us, and we disagree with them about a lot of things. so this is going to be a day today negotiation grinds, we're going to have to find people we can deal with and deal with them and be back in their offices the next day and say, nope, that didn't work and holding them accountable. that is going to require teams on the ground getting in their faces on a day-to-day basis. >> i think i'd add two things to that. first of all, there are divisions at national level, and there are also divisions between the national and the local, and this adds to the sense that graeme smith conveyed that it's a complicated decision-making structure, but it is a
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government that's able to make commitments. they've made commitments for example, with respect to ngos that are now being followed through at a local level. recognizing the power centers that exist is important. the united states is negotiates, has negotiated and continuing to negotiate, actually, with representatives of the taliban movement, taliban government now. but there are also other players who are powerful forces inside the country, and i think graeme's answer rightly recognizes that. >> senator marquee. >> thank you very much. mr. smith, yeah, this is a difficult kind of circle to square in terms of where the aid would go, if it was released from the u.s. federal reserve bank of new york, so could you maybe just compartmentalize short-term, medium-term,
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long-term, what the impact would be in terms of meeting the needs of the people in afghanistan and understanding that everything we'd be doing would have to be carefully calibrated to elicit specific narrow responses from the taliban, but how optimistic would you be that we could create such a formula? >> thank you for the question. i don't pretend to have all the answers, but what crisis group my organization has recommended is a phased release of selected tranches of the central bank -- >> shall i tell you what he was going to say? >> that would allow us to put some cash liquidity into the central bank so that they could hold currency auctions. they would go to the money changers in kabul and offer u.s. dollars in exchange for paper afghanis. fortunately, that is an
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electronic and automated system. that should be scrutinize extremely closely by u.s. and other authorities, and so this is not aid. this is not money for the taliban budget. this is money so that the central bank can function, and what that would allow to happen is it would float the value of the afghanis, the paper that people use to go to the bakery to buy bread, that paper would retain its value, but it would also mean that the bakers when they're buying wheat flour, that the traders have u.s. dollars that they can use to buy the wheat flour that comes in the country, that goes into afghan's daily bread. it is a life or death issue. >> thank you. when i was in kabul, the delegation from congress arrives wearing, you know, armor, helmets, we're in armored vehicles pulling up to the
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meeting with the afghan women, and then teachers, nurses, you know, they arrived -- they have no armor. they have no protection. when we finished the meeting, we put back on all of our armor, get down into the vehicles and the women just walked down into the streets of kabul. so mr. miliband, how do we make sure that those courageous people get the funding and that -- because you can see that they would make it tough in many ways for the taliban to interfere with their ability to help their families or the communities they're trying to help. so what's the formula you use to empower those incredibly courageous women especially that i was able to meet with? >> thank you senator. i mean, the first thing to say is that obviously the end of the war means it's far more secure in afghanistan than it's been in a very long time at the moment. and there are roads that we can drive down that we haven't been able to drive down in a very
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long time. secondly, paying directly to staff members is a way of making sure that the funds from the international system go to the people that it's intended for, and we have very strict systems for making sure that that happens. thirdly, we do work with the consent of the national and the local authorities, and we also find that those authorities are very leery of getting on the wrong side of the population who are being served by those services, and we don't have arms either. we don't carry guns. we don't have any kind of protection, and i can tell you that we're now -- we're hiring in afghanistan. we now have 3,000 staff across the country, ten of the most densely populated provinces, and our services tragically are more needed than ever before, but it's not the local security situation that is getting in the way of us doing our work. >> finish this sentence, it's -- >> it's the economic collapse.
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>> so you're saying -- and if i just may follow up on this, if you're lgbtq, if you're an ethnic minority, if you're a religious minority, you're saying that there is still a way to get the funding into the hands of those communities and that -- and that the obstacles are not then what the taliban would be especially inclined perhaps to do to those groups that might not be of the ethnic majority? >> well, one of the programs that we work to deliver is a cash distribution program, and so i can see that you're asking not about payments to our staff but about payments to our clients. what we do in all the places that we work is seek out the most persecuted minorities and try and reach them. now, there are always many who we can't reach, but i'm very happy to send you more details of how we seek out persecuted minorities, how we get support to them, and how we allow them to register their needs without
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advertising those needs, which is obviously very important. >> i thank you, and i thank you mr. chairman, and again, i want to thank you for all of your historic work on climate change as well. i would ask you about that situation in afghanistan because i know it does have an impact, but i don't have the time, but just know that we're committed to having the united states be a leader once again by the end of this year so that the world has our nation to look to once again. but thank you so much, both of you, for all of your great work. >> great. senator young. >> thank you, chairman. we're struggling, of course, with dire needs, this horrible humanitarian crisis, and that said, i want to take a look at the longer term for a moment. it seems increasingly apparent that the afghan economy was built almost wholly on international donor assistance in recent history, and much of
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that's gone forever with the taliban in charge. prior to the withdrawal assistance accounted for three-quarters of the government's budget and 40% of the country's entire economy. i think to myself and many others hope of building a sustainable economy seem, if not dashed, remote. and so perhaps our witnesses can give me some measure of hope, of course tempered by reality. are there elements of the real afghan economy, i ask you, that are stronger today than they were two decades ago? and if so, perhaps you could highlight those for me. >> with permission, maybe i would just offer a few observations. there are many elements of the afghan economy that are stronger today. when i first arrived in 2005, i was using my satellite phone a
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lot, and now you can get a pretty decent 3g signal. telecommunications has become the largest private sector employer, with by some measures about 200,000 employees. that sector, of course, just like so many other sectors now at dire risk, not only because of the banking sector collapse, but also because, you know, a friend of mine is a telecommunications executive. he wants to buy spare parts for his cell phone towers, he calls a u.s. -- and he just hangs up on the phone on them. they're terrified of u.s. sanctions. regional connectiity is one potential future way that afghanistan could, you know, improve its standing in the world. there are plans on paper, at least for gas pipelines and electricity corridors and so forth, and the taliban are eager to make those things work, but all those things are going to
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require a stable investment climate. we do have at the moment is more peace than we've seen in 40 years in afghanistan, so that's a good step towards a stable investment climate, but i don't think investors are going to be willing to come back in the numbers needed until the west decides to sort of release the economic restrictions on afghanistan. >> can i just add to that, senator, i think you're so right to be focused on this because we do have to get through the starvation crisis of the next eight to ten weeks, but then there has to be a serious medium term international plan. we've talked a lot about bilateral u.s. afghan relations. there's a massive role for the world bank and imf, international financial institutions to sit down and run a proper exercise about the future of the afghan economy. we know it was more or less or a $20 billion economy just before covid last world bank estimates. you do the sums, 14 million people, that's only $500 per person per year.
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so it was a poor economy. it's undoubtedly a smaller economy today. it might be a $250 person economy or even less, and that world bank imf effort currently under severe restriction in the case of the imf stopped, that's essential to give any kind of framework in which the responsibilities of some of the regional powers that you raised in your opening statement can be properly fulfilled. >> no, that's very helpful, both of you, and mr. miliband, i'd circle back to a point you made earlier about how, you know, russia, china, the united states, india, pakistan, many of those countries share interests as it relates to maintaining some stability in afghanistan and so perhaps we could find more cooperation than is popularly believed as we've put together this sort of plan. i guess the last thing that i
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would ask to telescope in on one area of their economy that's received a lot of attention at a policy level and, you know, in the media in recent years, and that's our efforts to eradicate poppy production. it was, i think, few would question that was a failed effort. the demand for elicit substances in this country and others just swamped our public policy efforts there. how important today is elicit drug trafficking to the economy of afghanistan, and what alternative exports could afghanistan feasibly have? >> this is one for you graeme. >> yeah, sure, i'm glad you raised this, senator, because there is a real risk that as more and more afghans fall into poverty, and especially the
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urban economies collapse, that they go home to their villages ask they farm more poppy. so afghanistan already dominates the global market for opium, but those volumes could even increase from where they are today, not just opium, but also hashish, and we're seeing increasingly supplies of methamphetamines. they're farming wild efedra, and out competing synthetic meme. it's a real risk. i also think about guns. there's a real concern that afghanistan could again become a sort of open air arms bazaar just like libya was after 2011. so there are actually proposals out there for cooperating with the taliban on rule of law issues. i know of one ngo that wants to work with the taliban on collecting weapons and safely securing them in facilities. so that maybe difficult for a
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u.s. politician to even think about, but down the road, working on rule of law issues is something that could be considered. >> thanks again, gentlemen. i appreciate it. chairman. >> thank you very much. just a couple of final questions. i take your challenge seriously, you were blunt as promised today, mr. miliband, but we're looking at a $4.4 billion appeal that's been made by the u.n., the united states has pledged $308 million, less than 10% of that total. you are coming here to tell us we need to do more. if you could transport yourself to one or two or three other national capitals to make this same plea, which ones would they be? who are the other nations that are going to have to step up in order to meet this $4.4 billion need to get us through the next eight months? who should we be talking to to
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convince to do more if we're going to ask our taxpayer to do more as well? >> i think the burden sharing argument on this is very, very strong, and it's a call to do different as well as to do more, hence the focus on the economy. i will start in europe. they were the united states' partners over the last 20 years. there was a massive european interest in avoiding further collapse of the afghan state and society for obvious migration reasons. secondly, i think that the coalition of gulf countries summon ed a meeting of the organization of islamic conference. they are concerned about the stability of the afghan state and the fate of the afghan people, and when it comes to a discussion about underpinning the banking system in afghanistan, i think there's good reason to look to the gulf for support as well. thirdly, i know that america has a very tangled and troubled
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relationship, both with pakistan and with iran for different reasons, certainly on the pakistan side where the uk has a long history and a history that is somewhat easier than our history with iran, those neighbors feel the destabilization in afghanistan very, very seriously. and in my time as foreign minister, i tried to emphasize in everything i did the need not just for a national bargain inside afghanistan but a regional bargain as well because the history of the last 200 years shows that when the region is not involved in afghanistan, it makes trouble in the country. when there's stability in afghanistan, it's in part because there is engagement with the region. so those would be the three centers of my activity and actually are the three centers of the advocacy that i'm trying to do. >> the final subject i want to touch upon, you have both referenced in small parts to
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answers to questions. there are these two big things that have happened in afghanistan, one the collapse of their economy, but second, the end of 20 years of war. and that is not insignificant. you've mentioned the impact it's had on humanitarian access, roads that you were unable to access during the war or parts of it that you now have access to. and so i wonder what you hear from your partners on the ground and citizens in afghanistan about how they view the peace dividend that has come, what it means to them to not have to deal with war on a daily basis, and what we know about the broader impact that the taliban has on individuals and families lives. we have rightly focused a lot on the restrictions on girls' education, but when we saw images of the 1990s taliban b it seemed as if there was a much greater level of micromanagement of individuals and families social lives than simply the
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restriction on female education. what do afghans say today about the way that their daily life is impacted, a, by the elimination of the threat of warfare, but bb, but a new government, that has a different social agenda. is it just about girls having access to less education, which in itself is an abomination or is the taliban back to their old tricks of deciding when and where you can socialize with friends or watch movies or engage in broader social opportunities. tell a little bit of the story to the extent that you know to what the end of the war has mebt and what the second coming of the taliban government has meant to the daily lives of afghans. >> you want to go graeme? >> sure, if i may. it's the end of the deadliest conflict on the planet earth. tens of thousands of afghans were being killed annually. hundreds of thousands displaced
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annually. so people are going back to their broken homes. they are trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. you know, it really depends on which afghans you speak to. some have fled the country fearing for their lives. some are hiding in their own homes if they were in some way associated with the previous government, very fearful that the taliban's promise of amnesty won't protect them from the revenge of people who may want to do them harm. and so other people are traveling back into the country for the first time. people who have been in exile are coming back to afghanistan and hoping to make new lives. for women, you know, it's a very varied picture, and it's something that's moving very quickly in terms of, you know, you're seeing the western pressure having some effect. the taliban have just announced
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that this spring the exams, the concure, it's a very famous right of passage for young afghans to try to get into university, that both young men and young women will write that exam this year. these are small steps, and i think you have to watch this space very closely and continue to advocate with the taliban to make, you know, everyone's lives better in afghanistan and not just the victors in this conflict. >> i think that graeme is right to emphasize how varied it is across the country and between different layers of society. if i had to summarize, i would say -- if i had to generalize, i would say they are very fearful of the future and the more they have gained over the last 20 years, the more fearful they are of the future because they have more to lose, and the passion that comes through in any conversation that i have with our teams is precisely because they think that they've got something to lose.
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and that is creating a real sense of crisis. it's leading some to want to leave, although the opportunities for that are extremely limited. but it's also creating this sense of disbelief that they're going to be abandoned. and when i referred in my opening statement to the price of peace, i think any afghan who had been told that peace would be as painful as it is and potentially be even more deadly than war would have not believed it. that's the situation that we face today. >> i want to thank both of you for your testimony today. we appreciate the insight and the recommendations that you've made to the subcommittee. members are going to be allowed to submit questions for the record until the close of business on friday. with thanks to the subcommittee, this hearing is adjourned.
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