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One month after fall of Kabul, economic crisis stalks Taliban

file photo: afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after taliban takeover in kabul
Afghans line up outside a bank to take out their money after Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan September 1, 2021. REUTERS

A month after seizing Kabul, the Taliban face daunting problems as they seek to convert their lightning military victory into a durable peacetime government.

After four decades of war and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, security has largely improved, but Afghanistan’s economy is in ruins despite hundreds of billions of dollars in development spending over the past 20 years.

Drought and famine are driving thousands https://www.reuters.com/video/watch/idPxFY?now=true from the country to the cities, and the World Food Programme fears food could run out by the end of the month, pushing up to 14 million people to the brink of starvation.

While much attention in the West has focused on whether the new Taliban government will keep its promises to protect women’s rights or offer shelter to militant groups like al Qaeda, for many Afghans the main priority is simple survival.

“Every Afghan, kids, they are hungry, they don’t have a single bag of flour or cooking oil,” said Kabul resident Abdullah.

Long lines still form outside banks, where weekly withdrawal limits of $200 or 20,000 afghani have been imposed to protect the country’s dwindling reserves.

Impromptu markets where people sell household goods for cash have sprung up across Kabul, although buyers are in short supply.

Even with billions of dollars in foreign aid, Afghanistan’s economy had been struggling, with growth failing to keep pace with the steady increase in population. Jobs are scarce and many government workers have been unpaid since at least July.

While most people appear to have welcomed the end of fighting, any relief has been tempered by the near-shutdown of the economy.

“Security is quite good at the moment but we aren’t earning anything,” said a butcher from the Bibi Mahro area of Kabul, who declined to give his name. “Every day, things get worse for us, more bitter. It’s a really bad situation.”

AID FLIGHTS

Following the chaotic foreign evacuation of Kabul last month, the first aid flights have started to arrive as the airport reopens.

International donors have pledged over $1 billion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-seeks-600-million-avert-afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis-2021-09-12 to prevent what United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned could be “the collapse of an entire country.”

But world reaction to the government of Taliban veterans and hardliners announced last week has been cool https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/world-wary-taliban-government-afghans-urge-action-rights-economy-2021-09-08, and there has been no sign of international recognition or moves to unblock more than $9 billion in foreign reserves held outside Afghanistan.

Although Taliban officials have said they do not intend a repeat of the harsh fundamentalist rule of the previous government, toppled by a U.S.-led campaign following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, they have struggled to convince the outside world that they have really changed.

Widespread reports of civilians being killed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-rights-boss-says-has-credible-reports-taliban-executions-2021-08-24 and journalists and others being beaten, and doubts about whether the rights of women really will be respected under the Taliban‘s interpretation of Islamic law, have undermined confidence.

In addition, there has been deep mistrust of senior government figures like the new interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, designated by the United States as a global terrorist with a $10 million bounty on his head.

To make matters worse for the Taliban, the movement has had to fight speculation over deep internal splits in its own ranks, denying rumours https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-deny-their-deputy-prime-minister-mullah-baradar-is-dead-2021-09-14 that Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar had been killed in a shootout with Haqqani supporters.

Officials say the government is working to get services up and running again and that the streets are now safe, but as the war recedes, resolving the economic crisis is looming as a bigger problem.

“Thefts have disappeared. But bread has also disappeared,” said one shopkeeper.

TIMELINE

Aug. 15 Taliban fighters enter the capital Kabul, completing a lightning offensive that saw provincial capitals fall to the insurgents like dominoes. The speed and ease of their conquest surprised even the Taliban.

– There is an immediate scramble by foreigners and Afghans to leave the country, leading to chaos at the international airport. Several people are killed.

Aug. 17 – U.S. President Joe Biden breaks his silence on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan which presaged the Taliban‘s return to power. Desperate scenes at the airport lead to recriminations against Washington from around the world.

 Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid gives the first press conference by the Taliban since their victory. He seeks to reassure Afghans and the international community, saying women’s rights will be respected and there will be no reprisals.

Aug. 18 – Anti-Taliban protests erupt in the eastern city of Jalalabad. At least three people are killed.

Aug. 19 – Scenes of chaos at Kabul airport persist, dominating global headlines. Several more people are killed as Taliban members open fire and people stampede.

– Despite Taliban assurances, reports of former enemies being rounded up for questioning persist and journalists complain of beatings and, in the case of some women, being turned away from work.

– Anti-Taliban protests break out in Asadabad and Kabul.

Aug. 21 – The Taliban say the group will investigate reports of atrocities and protect people’s rights. They also say the airport chaos is not their fault and that they are trying to provide a smooth exit for those with correct paperwork.

Aug. 23 – Haji Mohammad Idris is named acting governor of the central bank amid economic turmoil. Many businesses and banks remain shut and prices for staples climb rapidly.

Aug. 24 – The World Food Programme says millions of Afghans could soon face starvation, given the security situation, COVID-19 and drought.

Aug. 26 – A suicide bomb attack near the airport in Kabul kills scores of people, including 13 U.S. troops. Some Western media reports put the final death toll at nearly 200. The attack was claimed by a local offshoot of Islamic State.

Aug. 27 – The U.S. military says it launches a drone strike against an Islamic State “planner”.

Aug. 29 – A U.S. drone strike targets a suspected suicide bomber who the Pentagon said was preparing to attack Kabul airport. The Taliban later condemn the attack and say there were civilian casualties.

Aug. 30 – U.S. General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announces completion of the U.S. troop withdrawal, ending the 20-year war.

– The Taliban declare independence for Afghanistan.

Aug. 31 – Long queues at banks, rising prices for staples and people taking risky land routes to try to leave Afghanistan are among the first challenges for the Taliban.

Sept. 3 – The Taliban say they have seized control of the mountainous Panjshir province north of Kabul, the final holdout held by anti-Taliban fighters. The self-proclaimed resistance movement says they are still fighting.

Sept. 4 – Kabul airport reopens for aid flights and domestic services.

Sept. 7 – The Taliban announce their new government, ending weeks of talks and speculation. Veteran members of the movement dominate the new cabinet, including several who were held in Guantanamo Bay and a minister on a U.S. terrorism wanted list.

Sept. 9 – The first commercial international flight under the new Taliban government leaves Kabul carrying more than 100 foreigners.

Sept. 13 – Donors pledge $1.1 billion for Afghanistan as aid dries up and countries remain wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.

Sept. 14 – Thousands of people protest in the southern city of Kandahar over Taliban plans to evict families from a former military colony.

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