Taliban push millions into abject poverty

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By Deepa Kaushik

New Delhi, August 28: One year ago in August 2021 the hardline Islamists captured Kabul.

“We fulfilled the obligation of jihad and liberated our country,” said Niamatullah Hekmat, an Islamist who entered Kabul just hours after the then president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

The Taliban have been celebrating the anniversary of the capture of Kabul.

“The time we entered Kabul, and when the Americans left, those were the moments of joy,” said Hekmat, now a member of the special forces guarding the presidential palace.

But hundreds of thousands of Afghans in exile mourned the day they lost their country to the hardline Islamist group.

Afghanistan’s economic condition is in a tailspin.

Millions of Afghans are now into abject poverty.

According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, the country has reached a critical mass starvation, as nearly 20 million people are going hungry. Notably, half of the population are suffering either level – 3 or 4 malnutrition, as per the assessment system of the World Food Programme (WFP).

Over one million children, under the age of five years are at risk of dying when deprived of food and are suffering from prolonged acute malnutrition, which puts them on the verge of facing significant health problems, including stunting, sight problems, diabetes, and heart diseases amongst others.

Subsequently, the WFP has also reported that the tens of thousands of people in one province have slipped into catastrophic level – 5 acute malnutrition, a precursor of famine.

While many experts have predicted that there will be a slight improvement in food security due to the upcoming harvest, but these reliefs shall only be short term.

The fallout from the war in Ukraine continues to put pressure on the country’s wheat supply, food commodities, agriculture inputs and fuel prices. Further, access to seeds, fertilizers and water for irrigation is also in limited amount, labor opportunities are scarce and people have incurred enormous debts to buy food over the past few months, which shall threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions across the country.

Making the whole situation even more tragic, the country’s inflation and cost increase have been accelerating as the basic items price have increased over 50 per cent. According to the World Bank Data, prices for staple food such as wheat or rice, and at the same time, price for agricultural inputs, including fertilizers or feedstuffs have almost increased to double.

Nonetheless, due to the US decisions to restrict Afghanistan’s banking sector significantly amplified the crisis by hampering most legitimate economic activities, including humanitarian efforts. The Central Bank of Afghanistan is unable to carry out basic banking functions such as holding currency auctions, importing banknotes and processing or setting legitimate commercial transactions.

Because of these incapacities, even basic economic activities are severely affected and curtailed.

“Importers are struggling to pay for goods, humanitarian groups are facing problems with basic operations and even the Afghan diaspora cannot send enough money to their relatives or friends, millions of hungry people are experiencing the abysmal reality of seeing food at the market but being unable to purchase it,” said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Advisor at Human Rights Watch.

As a result, the country continues to suffer from the major liquidity crisis and lack of treasury notes. The existing industry, private banks, and groups working for humanitarian causes are constantly reporting against the restriction on their operational capacities.

At the same time, due to the outside donors slashing their funding to support country’s health, education, and other essential sectors, several Afghans have lost their source of income.

Although, countries like India and transnational organization like UNICEF are providing substantial humanitarian aid to mitigate the claustrophobe. But this in long term shall shift the country perpetually dependent on such aid and vulnerable to any intrusion.

Therefore, the Taliban leadership should recognize their own responsibility for the current economic situation. Further, they need to build on the sustainable aspects of their monetary administration, appoint qualified and experienced officials to lead their key Finance Portfolios and the Central Bank of Afghanistan should work onto restoring the normal bilateral relations with other countries.

Whereas, in spite of reinstating hopes of the people or resolving the banking crisis, the Taliban authorities seem more interested in disregarding the international agencies and flouting cosmopolitan priorities.

(Author is a researcher with PPRC)

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