A month after taking Kabul, the Taliban face overwhelming problems as they seek to turn their blitzkrieg military victory into an enduring peacetime government.
After four decades of war and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, security has greatly improved, but Afghanistan’s economy is in shambles despite hundreds of billions of dollars in development spending over the past 20 years.
Drought and famine are driving thousands of the country to cities, and the World Food Program fears that its food supplies will begin to run out by the end of the month, pushing the 14 million food-insecure Afghans to the brink. from starvation.
While much attention in the West has focused on whether the new Taliban government will keep its promises to protect women’s rights and reject groups like al-Qaeda, for many Afghans the top priority is simple survival.
“All Afghans, children, are hungry, they don’t have a single bag of flour or cooking oil,” said Abdullah, a Kabul resident.
On Tuesday, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, told reporters at UN headquarters in an informational video from Kabul that four million Afghans are facing “a food emergency ”.
Paulsen said 70 percent of Afghans live in rural areas and there is a severe drought affecting 7.3 million Afghans in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
These vulnerable rural communities have also been affected by the pandemic, he said.
Paulsen said the winter wheat planting season, the most important in Afghanistan, is threatened by “challenges to the banking and cash system” as well as challenges to markets and agricultural products.
“More than half of the daily caloric intake of Afghans comes from wheat,” he said.
If agriculture collapses further, Paulson warned, it will increase malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.
Long lines still form outside banks, where weekly withdrawal limits of around 20,000 Afghans ($ 200) have been imposed to protect the country’s dwindling reserves.
Makeshift markets have sprung up in Kabul where people sell their possessions, though buyers are scarce.
International donors have pledged more than a billion dollars to prevent what UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned could be “the collapse of an entire country.”
Even with billions of dollars in foreign aid, Afghanistan’s economy has been struggling, and growth has not been able to keep up with the steady increase in population. Jobs are scarce and many government workers have been unpaid since at least July.
‘Every day things get worse’
While most people seem to have welcomed the end of the fighting, any relief has been tempered by the near shutdown of the economy.
“Security is quite good at the moment, but we are not gaining anything,” said a butcher from the Bibi Mahro area of Kabul, who declined to give his name.
“Every day things get worse, more bitter for us. It’s a really bad situation. “
Following the chaotic foreign evacuation from Kabul last month, first aid flights have started arriving as the airport reopens.
But the global reaction to the government of hardliner and Taliban veterans announced last week has been cold, and there have been no signs of international recognition or moves to unlock more than $ 9 billion in foreign reserves held outside of Afghanistan.
Although Taliban officials have said they do not intend for a repeat of the tough rule of the previous government, toppled by a US-led campaign following the September 11, 2001 attacks, they have struggled to convince the outside world that it really they’ve changed.
Widespread reports of the killing of civilians and the beating of journalists and others, and doubts about whether women’s rights will actually be respected under the Taliban’s hardline interpretation of Islamic law, have undermined trust.
In addition, there has been deep mistrust of high-level government figures, such as 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 about deep internal divisions within its own ranks, denying rumors 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 back up and running and the streets are now safe, but as the war recedes, solving the economic crisis looms as a bigger problem.
“The robberies have disappeared. But the bread has also disappeared ”, said a trader.