‘People are not as afraid of the Taliban... the problem now is our empty stomachs'
The Independent|October 09, 2021
Just weeks after the jihadist takeover, the Afghan economy is at an abrupt and perilous standstill, writes Pamela Constable
Pamela Constable

Amman Nasir, 18, used to make steel safes in a workshop on a contract with the US army. Now the American forces are gone, the workshop is locked and Nasir, along with all 15 other employees, is jobless.

His neighbour Sharifa Ali, in her forties, had to close her tailoring shop after the government fell to the Taliban in August and customers stopped coming. Forced to sell her best kitchenware in a flea market, she is hoping she won’t have to part with her sewing machine, too.

“Every family is facing the same crisis,” says Nasir, who had piled some blankets from home on a sidewalk, hoping someone would buy them. “People are not as afraid as they were when the Taliban first came. The problem now is our empty stomachs.”

Across the Afghan capital, evidence of the country’s fastunravelling economy is everywhere – from the angry crowds of unpaid government workers waiting outside banks that have run out of cash, to the tent camp of war-displaced families that has taken over the main city park, to the jumbled piles of household goods that have sprouted on corners and vacant lots.

In a matter of weeks, several cascading events – the final withdrawal of US troops, the mass surrender of Afghan forces, the collapse of the national government and takeover by Taliban militants, and a chaotic mass evacuation punctuated by a deadly airport bombing – have brought the Afghan economy to an abrupt and perilous standstill.

The impoverished country of 40 million was already reeling from severe drought and months of fighting when the extremists took power in mid-August, prompting foreign donors and governments to suspend millions of dollars in aid that had long propped up the western-backed government. International financial systems also shut off access to cash and credit.

So far, Taliban officials have not revealed any concrete plans to tackle the looming economic crisis, instead blaming the west for interfering in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.

Today, government offices are shut, and the central bank is releasing only partial salary payments for teachers, police and office workers; the major private bank is doing the same with depositors’ money. Many wealthier Afghans have fled the country and business owners are struggling to stay afloat. Inflation is rapidly driving up food prices, and the sidewalk bargain economy has largely replaced the formal one.

Day after day, hundreds of people form unruly lines outside the main office of New Kabul Bank, waiting for their turn at the sole ATM that dispenses only a fraction of what they are owed. Those who don’t reach the guarded entrance by dark must return the next morning.

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