Taliban Minister Raises Return of Deported Afghans’ Assets in Pakistan Visit

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The Taliban’s acting commerce minister said he had asked Pakistan to help return the assets of expelled Afghans and discussed ways to overcome Afghanistan’s stalled banking sector transactions during a four-day visit to Islamabad this week.

Acting minister Nooruddin Azizi’s arrival in the Pakistani capital marked the first public visit by a senior Taliban official since Pakistan announced its policy to deport thousands of undocumented Afghans and other foreign citizens after Nov. 1.

It comes just a week after Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister said its expulsion plan was a response to the unwillingness of the Taliban-led administration to act against militants using Afghanistan to carry out attacks in Pakistan.

The Taliban have said the security issues are a domestic matter for Islamabad and called on Pakistan to stop deportations.

Azizi said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday night that the negotiations had mainly focused on trade issues and had been “friendly”. He said Pakistan officials had raised counter-terrorism issues and he had reiterated the Taliban’s policy that Afghan soil would not be used against other nations.

Azizi said a major focus of the visit had been raising the problem of Afghan deportees being unable to return their assets from Pakistan. He said that the Afghan embassy’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad and Pakistan’s foreign office would work on a “detailed roadmap” on how the assets could be returned but said it would take time.

“This is not a matter of 10 people or 100 people, this is a matter of 1.7 million people,” Azizi said.

Afghan citizens returning to Afghanistan have said there are restrictions on the transfer of cash and property from Pakistan, where many had built businesses and homes for decades. Over 350,000 Afghans have returned, many in temporary shelters near the border.

“Winter is coming, and .. the migrants are having many problems, their medicine and health issues, their food … we have many problems ahead and this is a very big challenge for the Islamic Emirate,” Azizi said, referring to the Taliban’s name for its government.

Azizi took part in a meeting on Wednesday between Pakistan and Uzbekistan, who agreed to boost trade, including “enhancing and expanding the banking system.”

Afghanistan’s banking sector has been severely hampered since the Taliban took over in 2021 as foreign banks limited transactions due to concerns over breaching anti-money laundering regulations and international sanctions against some Taliban leaders.

Azizi said that officials from Pakistan and Afghanistan’s commerce ministries had agreed to work on draft proposals within a month on how they could reinstate banking transactions for traders.

He hoped that Pakistani banks that already have branches in Afghanistan could re-start transactions between the two countries.

He added that he would prefer Afghan banks use its previous banking channels like SWIFT, but they were considering using China’s currency to settle international payments between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“We have to find another solution, we are in need…(China) is a huge economic power of the world at the moment, their currency has good stability … we are thinking about it, we haven’t taken decision about it,” he said.

Pakistan’s commerce minister and a spokesman for the commerce ministry did not respond to request for comment.

(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Mohammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul, Editing by William Maclean)

Copyright 2023 Thomson Reuters.

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