On February 2, 2022 the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) published new Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) regarding the General Licenses issued for Afghanistan. These FAQs are designed to help clarify what types of activities and transactions are allowed by nongovernmental organizations and individuals in Afghanistan given that the Taliban/Haqqani Network are listed as terrorist organizations by the United States. OFAC, part of the U.S. Treasury Department, has issued a number of General Licenses and FAQs that have helped facilitate critical humanitarian aid and programming to the Afghan people.

The most recent FAQs clarify that direct cash shipments to Afghanistan are allowed; payments for rent, salaries and other related costs in service to humanitarian programs are allowed; and certain programs, such as municipal water projects, agricultural programs and similar development programs are allowed.

These General Licenses and the FAQs represent real progress in enabling civil society organizations to meet essential human needs in Afghanistan. However, there are still critical civil society efforts that have not been addressed. For example, peacebuilding programs are not explicitly allowed or defined in the GLs or FAQs.

Moreover, the Treasury Department and OFAC are limited in their ability to address the crisis in Afghanistan. While the licenses enable a fair degree of NGO activity, they are only part of the solution within a broader context of a stifling liquidity crisis within Afghanistan brought on by the U.S. and other governments freezing Afghanistan’s foreign reserves. Even to the extent that NGOs are allowed to implement their programs, their programs are impacted by limited access to funds and financial services while facing increasingly dire needs from the people they serve. The U.S. should act swiftly to return Afghanistan’s frozen reserves to the people of Afghanistan, and do so without attaching political conditions that could delay or prevent these funds from alleviating Afghanistan’s dire economic and humanitarian crises.

Beyond Afghanistan, the use of broad-based sanctions by the U.S. has led to similar limitations in a number of countries that face dire humanitarian needs. Treasury and OFAC have made progress, and C&SN and its members will continue to work with them to seek more allowances. However, licensing is not enough. In line with stated commitments in its sanctions policy review, the administration should take steps to mitigate the unintended consequences of sanctions. Such steps should necessarily include ending the use of broad-based sanctions that have time and again come with dire consequences for civilians and civil society operations alike.