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More poverty, less violence and great despair: Afghanistan celebrates six months in the hands of the Taliban

Afghanistan has undergone a dramatic transformation in half a year of Taliban rule.

The country appears safer and less violent than it has in decades, but the economy, once fueled by foreign aid, is hurtling toward a debacle. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled or been evacuated, including a large part of the educated elite.

They fear for their economic future or for the lack of freedom under a group that ascribes to a strict interpretation of Islam.

During its previous rule in the late 1990s, the Taliban banned girls from going to school and women from working.

A Taliban fighter, in a mosque in Herat, this Tuesday. Photo: AFP

turbulent months

This Tuesday marks six months since the Afghan capital, Kabul, was left in the hands of the Taliban with the sudden and secret departure of the country’s president, Ashraf Ghani, backed by the United States.

The takeover of Kabul was preceded by a months-long Taliban military campaign to seize control of provincial areas, many of which fell with little resistance.

Today, the sight of armed Taliban fighters roaming the streets continues to shock and scare residents.

But the women have returned to the streetsand many young men have returned to dressing in Western clothes after initially abandoning them for the traditional shalwar kameez, the long shirt and baggy trousers favored by the Taliban.

Afghanistan in numbers

Differences with the 90s

Unlike in the 1990s, the Taliban allow some women to work. They have already returned to their posts at the health and education ministries, and at Kabul’s international airport, often alongside men.

But they are still waiting to return to work in other ministries. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the downward economic spiral, and women have been the most affected.

The Taliban crack down on women’s protests and harass journalists. They even briefly detained two foreign journalists working with the UN refugee agency last week.

A protest of women, who claim for their rights, in January in Kabul.  Photo: AFP

A protest of women, who claim for their rights, in January in Kabul. Photo: AFP

On Monday, the arrest of some young men selling heart-shaped flowers for Valentine’s Day was a stark reminder that the new all-male, religion-based government, does not tolerate western ideas about romanticism.

Girls in grades 1-6 go to school, but girls in upper grades are still out of school in most parts of the country. The Taliban promised that all girls would go to school after the Afghan New Year, at the end of March. Universities are reopening little by little and private schools had never closed.

Poverty

Poverty worsens. Even those with money have difficulty accessing it. At banks, lines are long and customers wait for hours, sometimes even days, to withdraw a limit of $200 per week.

More than 9,000 million dollars in Afghan assets abroad were frozen after the seizure of power by the Taliban. Last week, President Joe Biden signed an executive order promising that $3.5 billion – of the $7 billion of Afghan assets frozen in the United States – would be released to the families of American victims of 9/11. The other $3.5 billion would be released to provide assistance to Afghanistan.

Afghans from across the political spectrum have denounced that order, accusing the United States of taking money belonging to Afghans.

A Taliban militant watches a demonstration in Kabul on Monday against a US decision.  Photo: EFE

A Taliban militant watches a demonstration in Kabul on Monday against a US decision. Photo: EFE

On Tuesday, some 3,000 Afghans protested in the capital against Biden’s order carrying banners reading “Biden, 2022 Global Thief.”

“9/11 has nothing to do with Afghans,” read one banner. “Shame on you Mr. Biden, you kill us, you bomb us and now you’re stealing our money.”

Tuesday’s was the largest demonstration yet against the order and was organized by a group of private fund operators.

government of men

The Taliban have campaigned for international recognition of their all-male government, but are under pressure to establish an inclusive government and guarantee the rights of women and religious minorities.

Graeme Smith, senior adviser to the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program, advised against the use of sanctions, saying they would be counterproductive.

“Maintaining economic pressure on the Taliban will not remove their regime, but a crumbling economy could cause more people to flee the country, triggering another migration crisis,” he said. He also noted that this Taliban government “will probably be the most peaceful six-month period Afghanistan has enjoyed in four decades.”

The Taliban have reopened the country’s passport office, which receives thousands of people a day. Afghans have been promised that they will be able to travel, but only with the proper documents.

Alam Gul Haqqani, which manages passport offices across the country, told the Associated Press that management is negotiating to obtain new equipment and has reinstated 70% of former employees.

The government had to hire new technical staff because most of the previous professionals had left the country, He said.

Those trying to emigrate seem driven largely by fear of a declining economy or a desire for greater freedom in a more liberal society.

Less corruption?

Haqqani noted that the countrywide passport department is profitable, receiving about 25 million Afghanis ($271,500) a day. He explained that before corruption devoured much of the profits. The official has paid salaries for three months and arrested or fired dozens of people on corruption charges.

International aid workers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information said the Taliban had reduced corruption in the past six months.

That has resulted in higher incomes in some sectors, even as economic activity has slowed. For example, they say, customs revenues have been rising even though the new Taliban government is doing less business.

Several officials linked to the former US-backed government have returned. One of them, former ambassador Omar Zakhilwal, said he had found no rancor from the Taliban.

He said he hoped the Taliban would “find the courage” to open their ranks, guarantee the participation of minorities in government and move forward in guaranteeing the rights of all Afghans.

Source: The Associated Press

Translation: Elisa Carnelli

CB

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