Afghanistan’s economic crisis deepens as airlift ends
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated outside a bank in Kabul on Saturday and others lined up in front of ATMs as a United Nations agency warned that a worsening of drought could leave millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.
At Kabul airport, thousands of people still gather in hopes of fleeing the country, even after a suicide bombing killed 169 Afghans and 13 US servicemen on Thursday and amid warnings of more attacks. The massive US-led airlift is drawing to a close, with many Western countries completing their own evacuation efforts before Tuesday’s deadline.
The economic crisis, which precedes the Taliban takeover earlier this month, could give Western countries leverage as they urge new Afghan leaders to form a moderate and inclusive government and allow people to leave after. the planned withdrawal of US forces on August 31.
Afghanistan relies heavily on international aid, which covered around 75% of the Western-backed government budget. The Taliban have said they want good relations with the international community and have promised a more moderate form of Islamic rule than when they last ruled the country, but many Afghans are deeply skeptical.
The New Kabul Bank protesters included many officials demanding their salaries, which they said had not been paid in the past three to six months. They said that even though the banks reopened three days ago, no one has been able to withdraw money. ATMs are still working, but withdrawals are capped at around $ 200 every 24 hours, which contributes to long queues.
The Taliban cannot access nearly all of the central bank’s $ 9 billion reserves, most of which is held by the New York Federal Reserve. The International Monetary Fund has also suspended the transfer of some $ 450 million. Without a steady supply of US dollars, the local currency is at risk of collapsing, which could cause commodity prices to skyrocket.
A UN agency has warned that a worsening drought threatens the livelihoods of more than 7 million people. The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said Afghans were also suffering from the coronavirus pandemic and the displacement of recent fighting.
Earlier this month, the United Nations World Food Program estimated that around 14 million people, or about one in three Afghans, are in urgent need of food assistance.
The FAO said crucial help is needed ahead of the winter wheat planting season, which begins in a month’s time in many areas. So far, the funding would cover aid to just 110,000 farming families, while some 1.5 million need help, the agency said, adding that the current harvest is expected to be 20% lower. than last year.
President Joe Biden has said he will meet the August 31 deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces. The Taliban, which controls almost all of the country outside of Kabul airport, has rejected any expansion.
Italy said its last evacuation flight landed in Rome, but that it would work with the United Nations and countries bordering Afghanistan to continue helping Afghans who had worked with its military contingent to leave the country. country.
“Our imperative must be not to abandon the Afghan people”, especially women and children, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Saturday. He said 4,890 Afghans had been evacuated by the Italian Air Force on 87 flights, but did not say how many more were still eligible.
More than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated via Kabul airport, according to the United States, but thousands more are struggling to leave and may not be able to make it by Tuesday.
The Taliban encouraged Afghans to stay in the country, promising amnesty even to those who fought against them. They said commercial flights will resume after the US pulls out, but it is not clear whether the airlines will be willing to offer service.
The United States and its allies have said they will continue to provide humanitarian assistance through the UN and other partners, but any broader engagement – including development assistance – will likely depend on whether the Taliban are keeping their promises of a more moderate regime.
When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 until the US-led invasion in 2001, they imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Women were largely confined to their homes, television and music were prohibited, and suspected criminals were maimed or executed in public.
This time around, the Taliban say women will be allowed to go to school and work outside the home. They have negotiated with senior Afghan officials from previous governments and say they want an “inclusive Islamic government”.
But even as the group’s senior leadership adopted a more moderate tone, human rights violations were reported in areas under Taliban control. It is not known whether the combatants are acting on orders or on their own.
Taliban fighters beat a cameraman for the private channel Tolo TV earlier this week in Kabul. Saad Mohseni, CEO of the group that owns the channel, said the Taliban had been in contact with the station’s management about the incident. He said the fighter had been identified, but it is not known whether he was disciplined. There was no comment from the Taliban.
Faiez reported from Istanbul and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Frances D’Emilio in Rome and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed.
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