Afghans Face Bank Runs, Food Shortages As Taliban Work To Form Government

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by Tyler Durden
Thursday, Sep 02, 2021 - 11:41 AM

As the Taliban shifts its focus to forming a functioning government and meeting the needs of the 38MM Afghans it's now responsible for governing, fighters are working to bring the last remaining rebel-held province, Panjshir, under Taliban control. The Taliban said Thursday that they had finally captured the district of Shotul, while the rest of Panjshir remains in the hands of rebel groups who are simultaneously negotiating with the Taliban, per WSJ. Casualties have been reported on both sides.

But even more pressing than cementing their control over all of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, is the fact that the Taliban needs to figure out how to reopen its country's shattered economy before figuring out how to reorder society. They need to get money flowing through the country's banks, and, by extension, food in people's mouths, in what's mostly a cash-based economy, the FT reports.

Banks have been closed since the Taliban took over, and at this point, many Afghans are starting to run out of money. The few branches that are open now have imposed strict withdrawal limits, leading to day-long queues and serious disruptions.

“Since 6am, I have been standing here in the queue,” an Afghan woman named Aalia told a reporter for the FT after Kabul’s night skies were pierced by Taliban fighters’ celebratory gunfire. “I have nothing left in my house and my kitchen.”

Though you won't read about it in the western press, the average Afghan is relieved now that the Taliban have returned to power since the end of the war means an end to the fighting and the violence and the civilian collateral damage. In Kabul, most were especially grateful that the Taliban's capture of the city as bloodless. The biggest problem now is fostering a return to economic harmony.

"I was very worried that there would be clashes and looting,” said a cheese vendor in a residential neighbourhood. “I was very happy that the Taliban came peacefully, there hasn’t been a clash and they prevented anarchy in the city.”

As far as markets are concerned, the price of food has soared as the value of the Afghan currency has plunged.

Meanwhile, WSJ reports that Afghans who live abroad are finding it more difficult than ever to send money back home. Money-transfer companies Western Union and MoneyGram International have suspended services in the country, in part to avoid running afoul of U.S. sanctions. Several Afghans living in London and other major international cities spoke to WSJ about the sudden diffculty that comes with sending money abroad. And while crypto obviously "solves this", the Afghan economy simply isn't well-adapted to digital payments.

The latest reports from the BBC say the Taliban could announce a new government within days, though a spokesman confirmed that no women will serve in senior roles.

In the mean time, the Taliban are trying to encourage some return to normality even as it considers how to reshape Afghan society. The group has launched a social media charm campaign, sharing peaceful scenes and a senior Talib kissing a baby. Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, has urged international investors to return to Afghanistan to rebuild the economy and called on business people to help the country overcome its economic crisis. Primary schools have reopened for younger students, including girls, after the Taliban agreed that children's and teachers' uniforms accorded with Islamic principles. Older students have yet to return to class, however.

Still, for many ordinary Afghans, the overriding concern remains how to access cash to buy food and other essentials. "We can agree to everything,” said one man watching the flags being taken down, "if only the banks would open."

The Taliban are taking over at a time of severe drought. Already, some in the international community are calling for the west to intercede in order to prevent a deadly famine. Writing in the Diplomat, Mary-Ellen McGroaty, a director at the World Food Program, warns that a devastating drought has killed 40% of Afghanistan's crops, which is terrible news for an economy that's largely based on agriculture.

Drought is again sparking anguish across the country, as farmers have lost 40 percent of their crops. Livestock has been devastated. Wells have run dry, and children are walking kilometers to fetch water that is often unsafe to drink. More than half of all Afghan families rely on agriculture for income. Without a harvest, there is no food nor jobs.

One in three Afghans are acutely food insecure. That’s 14 million people who can’t put enough food on the table and will go to bed with empty bellies.

In these extraordinarily difficult times, families are forced to make desperate decisions. Parents are taking on debt to buy food or not eating at all. They’re leaving their homes to seek work and humanitarian relief.

The question is, will this be enough to bring the Taliban to heel? Western assistance might be the only thing standing in the way of mass starvation. Then again, a large swath of Afghanistan's economy isn't even accounted for in a legitimate sense, since it involves smuggling via Taliban-controlled land routes into neighboring countries like Pakistan and Iran.