Afghan central bank’s $ 10 billion reserve out of reach for Taliban


A money changer holds a stack of Afghan currency on a street in central Kabul, April 2, 2014 Reuters

The Taliban said in a statement on Saturday that the treasury, public facilities and government offices were the property of the nation and “should be strictly monitored.”

The insurgent Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan with astonishing speed, but it seems unlikely that they will turn out to be just as quick to gain control of most of the central bank’s roughly $ 10 billion in assets. Afghan.

The country’s central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), is believed to be holding currency, gold and other treasures in its vaults, although the exact contents are unclear, according to an Afghan official. In addition, the vast majority of assets are held outside Afghanistan, according to another source familiar with the matter, which could leave most of the treasure beyond the reach of the insurgents.

Reuters could not reach officials at the Afghan central bank. Bank governor Ajmal Ahmady said in a Twitter thread that he left the bank’s deputies on Sunday, before leaving Kabul airport after President Ashraf Ghani and other key officials fled. . Ahmady did not respond to Reuters emails and messages seeking comment.

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The Taliban said in a statement on Saturday that the treasury, public facilities and government offices were owned by the nation and “should be strictly monitored.”

Here’s what we know about central bank assets and reserves:

The most recent financial statement released online shows that DAB has total assets of around $ 10 billion, including $ 1.3 billion in gold reserves and $ 362 million in foreign currency cash reserves, according to currency conversion rates as of June 21, date of the report.

Many assets held abroad

However, much of it will not take place in the country.

Central banks, especially in developing countries, often place their assets abroad with institutions such as the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) or the Bank of England.

According to the consolidated statement from DAB, the FRBNY held gold bars in its coffers worth 101,770,256,000 Afghanis – at the time $ 1.32 billion – on behalf of the Afghan central bank of by the end of 2020.

The DAB’s June statement also says the bank had investments worth $ 6.1 billion. While the latest report did not provide details on these investments, a breakdown in the year-end report showed that the majority of these investments were in the form of bonds and US Treasuries.

Investments were made through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), a branch of the World Bank, or through FRBNY and held in New York. Among its smaller items are stocks in an investment pool of the Bank for International Settlements, based in Switzerland, as well as the Trade and Development Bank of the Economic Cooperation Organization in Turkey.

When asked about the holdings, an FRBNY official said the bank does not recognize or discuss individual account holders as policy, but is generally in contact with US government agencies to monitor events that may have affect the control of a foreign central bank.

An official in the administration of US President Joe Biden told Reuters: “The central bank assets that the Afghan government owns in the United States will not be made available to the Taliban.”

DAB’s foreign currency holdings, worth around $ 362 million, consist almost entirely of US dollars and were held at the bank’s headquarters and branches as well as at the Presidential Palace, which is now in the hands of the Taliban.

The year-end press release also details that just under $ 160 million worth of gold bars and silver coins were held in the bank vault at the Presidential Palace.

Afghanistan’s central bank vaults also house a 2,000-year-old treasury of gold jewelry, ornaments and coins, known as the Bactrian treasury, according to UNESCO. The approximately 21,000 ancient artifacts were presumed lost until 2003, when they were found in a secret vault in the basement of the central bank, after surviving the previous era of the Taliban regime without be discovered.

Afghan lawmakers in January pitched the idea of ​​sending the treasures overseas to safety, warning they were vulnerable to theft, according to local broadcaster Tolo News.

Regarding the central bank’s international reserves, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated them at $ 9.5 billion in 2021 in its latest review published in June.

This translates to import coverage of over 15 months – well over the three months considered a safe minimum. The IMF has said it considers the level of reserves “broadly adequate for the risks Afghanistan faces”.

Access to SDRs in case of doubt

A key issue will be the management of Afghanistan’s share in the pending allocation of $ 650 billion in Special Drawing Rights foreign exchange reserves to the Fund’s 190 member countries on 23 August.

Distribution of SDRs, the Fund’s unit of exchange based on dollars, euros, yen, pound sterling and yuan, aims to boost reserves in developing countries strained by the Covid pandemic -19. As a member of the IMF, Afghanistan is eligible for an allocation of approximately $ 455 million, based on its 0.07% quota in the Fund.

Read also – Kabul has fallen: how US efforts in Afghanistan failed

Insurgents with access to these assets would be difficult to digest in capitals around the world, but not all countries have access to the SDRs allocated to them. In 2019, the IMF suspended Venezuela’s access to its SDRs after more than 50 member countries representing a majority of the Fund’s shareholding refused to recognize the government of Nicolas Maduro as the legitimate ruler of Venezuela following the elections. contested from 2018.

The fund did not respond to a request for comment on the pending allocation of SDRs to Afghanistan.

A source familiar with the matter said the IMF’s actions in such cases are guided by the views of its members. IMF members have also failed to reach consensus on whether to recognize Myanmar’s military leadership since taking power in a coup in February.

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