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Taliban Rely on Former Techno 10/19 07:01

   

   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- When the Taliban swept into power, they found 
Afghanistan's economy fast approaching the brink and were faced with harrowing 
predictions of growing poverty and hunger. So they ordered the financial 
managers of the collapsed former government back to work, with an urgent 
directive: Do your jobs, because we can't.

   In the 20 years since the Taliban last ruled, Afghanistan evolved from an 
economy dealing mostly in illicit enterprise to a sophisticated, 
multi-billion-dollar system fueled by donor aid and international trade. The 
Taliban, a movement borne out of the rural clergy, struggled to grasp the 
extent of the transformation.

   Four employees from financial institutions told The Associated Press how the 
Taliban commanded bureaucrats from the previous government's Finance Ministry, 
central bank and other state-owned banks to return to work. Their accounts were 
confirmed by three Taliban officials.

   "They told us, 'We are not experts, you know what is better for the country, 
how we can survive under these challenges'," recalled one state bank official, 
who like others spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized 
to speak on record.

   They told him, "Do what you must," but warned, "God is watching you, and you 
will be accountable for what you do on Judgment Day'."

   Quietly, these technocrats are advising the Taliban leadership in the 
running of the crippled financial sector. They tell them what to do and how to 
do it. But, as seasoned experts, they see no way out of Afghanistan's economic 
quagmire: With billions in international funds frozen, the best they can muster 
in domestic revenues is $500 million to $700 million, not enough to pay public 
salaries or provide basic goods and services.

   The Taliban are buttressing relations with local businessmen to keep them 
operating, while the leadership makes its case for international recognition in 
meetings with foreign officials.

   The Taliban's seizure of power in mid-August resulted in an abrupt halt to 
most donor funds. These disbursements accounted for 45% of GDP and financed 75% 
of state expenditures, including public sector salaries. In 2019, total 
government expenditures were nearly $11 billion.

   With drought ongoing as well, the United Nations predicts 95% of the 
population will go hungry and as much as 97% of the country risks sinking below 
the poverty line.

   The United States froze billions in dollar reserves in line with 
international sanctions against the Taliban, eroding the liquidity of both the 
central bank and commercial banks and constraining their ability to make 
international transactions.

   This has undermined international trade, a mainstay of the Afghan economy. 
Intermediary banks abroad are reluctant to engage in transactions given 
sanctions risks. Informal trade, however, continues. The International Monetary 
Fund predicts the economy will contract sharply.

   In the Finance Ministry and central bank, near daily meetings revolve around 
procuring basic staples like flour to ward off hunger, centralizing customs 
collections and finding revenue sources amid critical shortages in household 
goods. In Afghanistan, all fuel oil, 80% of electricity and up to 40% of wheat 
is imported.

   The technocrats' frustrations are many.

   Never mind dollars, there isn't enough of the local currency, the afghani, 
in circulation, they said. They blame this on the previous government for not 
printing enough prior to Kabul's fall in August.

   Hallways once bustling with employees are quiet. Some ministry workers only 
show up once or twice a week; no one has been paid a salary. A department 
responsible for donor relations once had 250 members and dealt with up to 40 
countries; now it has 50 employees at best, and one interlocutor: the United 
Nations.

   There are no women.

   Many are growing exasperated with the Taliban leadership.

   "They don't understand the magnitude," said one ministry official. "We had 
an economy of $9 billion in circulation, now we have less than $1 billion."

   But he was quick to excuse them. "Why would I expect them to understand 
international monetary policy? They are guerrilla fighters at heart."

   The returning government workers said the Taliban appear genuine in wanting 
to root out corruption and offer transparency.

   They aren't told everything. A closely guarded secret of the Taliban is how 
much cash remains in state coffers. Ministry and bank officials estimate this 
could be just $160 million to $350 million.

   "They are very sincere about the country, they want to boost morale and 
create friendly relations with neighboring countries," said another banking 
official. "But they don't have expertise in banking or financial issues. That 
is why they requested we return, and that we do our work honestly."

   Mawlawi Abdul Jabbar, a Taliban government adviser, said the returning 
experts are "with the government. And they are working on the financial issues 
to solve these problems."

   The Taliban are strengthening relations with businessmen who trade in basic 
goods with neighboring countries.

   An active proponent of forging business relations is Taliban adviser 
Abdul-Hameed Hamasi. He was recently greeted with a warm embrace at the wedding 
of the son of prominent businessman Baz Mohammed Ghairat.

   Ghairat's factories process everything from cooking oil to wheat. Hamasi 
said the Taliban were providing him with security, including permission to 
drive in bulletproof vehicles, so his dealings could continue.

   But central bank limits on withdrawals are Ghairat's chief concern. Without 
access to deposits, he cannot pay traders, he said.

   The economic woes preceded the Taliban's rise. Corruption and mismanagement 
were rampant in the former government.

   In the first months of 2021, economic growth slowed and inflation 
accelerated. Drought undermined agricultural production as fuel and food costs 
spiked.

   The Taliban's capture of border posts and transit hubs ahead of Kabul's fall 
exacerbated matters.

   Government officials, schoolteachers and civil servants hadn't received 
salaries for two to three months before the government collapsed. Many sold 
household goods or accumulated debts with neighbors and relatives to make ends 
meet.

   Sayed Miraza, an Agriculture Ministry employee, arrived at the bank at 4 
a.m. one Saturday morning. People had already lined up to access their weekly 
withdrawal limit of 20,000 afghanis, or $200.

   Miraza's account is empty. He came to pick up a Western Union transfer from 
a nephew in the U.S. "We ran out of food, so we had to ask for help," he said. 
By 9 a.m. he was still waiting.

   In a Kabul flea market, Hematullah Midanwal sells the items of people who 
have run out of funds.

   "They come sometimes with their entire living rooms, everything down to 
spoons," he said.

   Many hope to leave Afghanistan. Given the chance, the technocrats running 
the country's finances would also leave, every single one interviewed by the AP 
said.

   One central bank official said he was waiting on his asylum papers to go to 
a Western country. "If it comes, I will definitely leave. I would never work 
with the Taliban again."

 
 
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