Afghanistan quagmire

Life was never easy for the Afghans. It has only become harder after the change of guards in Kabul. While the Taliban have taken over power in Afghanistan without any bloodshed and pandemonium their inability to win international recognition for their rule is putting ordinary Afghans through a situation they have not experienced for almost 20 years.

The formal recognition is being withheld mainly because the Taliban regime is not seen as a satisfactory guarantor of human rights for its people —particularly women and religious minorities. This leads to a number of problems: Taliban officials cannot travel abroad freely — except for a small group allowed to fly between Kabul and Doha; they cannot take part in global forums and international events, such as the United Nations General Assembly and the Conference of Parties (COP) being held in Glasgow to mull over climate change.

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The biggest impact of this non-recognition is that Afghanistan remains under de facto economic sanctions that rather than weakening the Taliban are hurting the Afghan people. The main components of these sanctions include:

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1) the freezing by the United States of nearly $9.5 billion in assets and bank accounts that Afghanistan has abroad;

2) the de-linking of the Afghan banking system from the rest of the world;

3) the deferment of foreign aid and loans for development activities; and

4) the refusal by Poland and France to print Afghanistan’s currency, Afghani, which they were doing before the Taliban takeover.

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One of the most obvious consequences of these sanctions is that the Taliban government is unable to pay salaries to its civil servants because it does not have enough Afghanis in its coffers. Another major problem arising out of these is that Afghanistan does not have any dollars to pay for the electricity it imports from its neighbouring countries—Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

The financial problems have been made worse by the massive brain drain that Afghanistan has suffered since the fall of the Ghani government. Some estimates suggest that as many as 120,000 people have been evacuated from the country through airlift operations carried out by the Western governments. The evacuees included many of the most qualified professionals in civil service, law, medicine, finance and engineering. Also among them were aid workers and development practitioners. With their absence, international aid agencies have lost local bases to support the population.

All this leads to a foregone conclusion, as enunciated by the World Food Programme’s executive director, David Beasley, that Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises—a situation that it is unequipped to handle on its own. The United Nations is already ringing the alarm bells. In a recent statement, it has warned that millions of Afghans could face starvation in the coming winter. Its estimates suggest that around 23 million people in Afghanistan—more than half of its total population—are already facing acute food insecurity.

All this should be enough to give sleepless nights to Pakistani policymakers since its ripple effects are already being felt strongly on this side of the border. For one, the pressure on the Pakistani rupees has increased because of the smuggling of foreign currency, particularly American dollars, from Pakistan to Afghanistan. A few weeks ago, Prime Minister’s Advisor on Finance Shaukat Tareen put the volume of this smuggling at around $15 million a day.



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