Taliban promotes sanctioned official to central bank governor

By Mohammad Yunus Yawar and Charlotte Greenfield

KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban has promoted an official, who is the subject of U.S. counter-terrorism sanctions, as the central bank’s new acting governor, a spokesman said, a move likely to be watched by Washington which has frozen billions of the bank’s reserves.

Taliban administration spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid announced the appointment of Noor Ahmad Agha, also known as Ahmad Zia Agha, by the Taliban supreme spiritual leader to the helm of the central bank in a statement on Saturday.

He said former central bank governor Hidayatullah Badri, who is subject to U.S. and United Nations sanctions, would take up the role of acting Minister of Mines and Petroleum. 

Afghanistan’s central bank appointments are closely tracked by the United States, which froze $7 billion of its reserves held in the U.S. after the Taliban took over in 2021 as foreign forces withdrew from Afghanistan.

Washington later transferred half of the money to a trust fund in Switzerland overseen by U.S., Swiss and Afghan trustees.

One of several proposed U.S. conditions for considering letting the central bank access the funds is the replacement of senior Taliban members at the institution with experienced professionals to insulate the bank from political interference.

“It seems like the standoff will continue between the Afghan central bank and the international¬†banking¬†system,” said Graeme Smith, a senior analyst at Brussels-based thinktank International Crisis Group.

“Ahmad Zia Agha, also known in Afghanistan as Noor Ahmad Agha, has been sanctioned by the US Treasury which has labelled him as a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ for allegedly managing funds intended for bombs and for distributing money to Taliban commanders and associates abroad,” Smith added.

Mujahid and a spokesman for the Afghan central bank did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Agha’s inclusion on sanctions lists and any potential reaction from Washington.

A Taliban delegation recently met with international diplomats in Doha in a summit arranged by the United Nations, and again called for the return of the central bank assets, Mujahid told media.

(Reporting by Muhammad Yunus Yawar in Kabul and Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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