Taliban discusses easing banking transactions with Kazakhstan – Afghan commerce min

By Mohammad Yunus Yawar

KABUL (Reuters) – A Taliban delegation discussed facilitating international financial transactions with private banks on a recent trip to Kazakhstan in a bid to ease the Afghan banking sector’s isolation, the acting commerce minister said.

Nooruddin Azizi, acting Minister of Commerce and Industry, led a business delegation to Kazakhstan last week.

In addition to banking he discussed the possibility of preferential trade tariffs, telecommunications projects and transit routes, including for possible shipments of Russian oil to South Asia, he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.

“We had teams from Da Afghanistan Bank (Afghanistan’s central bank) and private banks in Kazakhstan, they discussed and are trying to find good ways to decrease the price of financial transactions … we don’t have any banking limitation with Kazakhstan,” he said.

Kazakhstan’s trade ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Afghanistan’s banking sector has been hampered and international transactions severely limited since the Taliban administration took over two years ago as foreign forces withdrew.

Some Taliban leaders are subject to United Nations and United States sanctions. Many international banks have limited transactions with Afghan banks to reduce risk, economists and diplomats say, contributing to a stall in the financial system.

That has been exacerbated by the United States and other governments freezing Afghan central bank assets held abroad.

Azizi also said transactions that went ahead often incurred expensive fees, sometimes 5% of the transaction, which they hoped to reduce.

Fixing Afghanistan’s banking sector was a priority, he said, adding that there are no sanctions directly on banks. But he acknowledged international financial institutions were not easily facilitating transactions.

“It is the preference of some banks that they don’t want to deal with Afghanistan, they might think the trade volume is low, but for us it is very important,” he said.

The United States has issued exemptions to sanctions for humanitarian operations and at times helped facilitate specific transactions, such as an Afghan central bank payment to European companies to buy fresh bank notes.

But traders and international agencies say normal banking has not been restored, hampering the economy and causing headaches for traders and aid programs.

The United Nations, which uses billions of dollars a year to fund humanitarian operations, has to fly in pallets of cash in physical shipments to Kabul.

(Reporting by Mohammad Yunus Yawar; Additional reporting by Tamara Vaal in Astana; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield, Editing by Angus MacSwan)