A year after the Taliban returned to power, the Islamist group’s efforts to manage an economy already plagued by drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and waning confidence in the government it overthrew, have stalled. largely proved unsuccessful.
In Afghanistan’s last fiscal year before the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s Western-backed coalition government – 2020-2021 – 75% of government spending of the country’s $5.5 billion annual budget came from foreign aid. But when the United States withdrew, international civil and security aid was abruptly cut off and the new leaders were sanctioned.
The United States has commandeered the majority of the country’s foreign currency reserves, freezing an estimated $7 billion held in the United States by the central bank in Kabul, linking its release to improving women’s rights and training women. inclusive government.
While the Taliban and many other countries have demanded the release of Afghan-owned reserves, aid initiatives that directly benefit the Afghan people have continued unabated, particularly to alleviate the suffering caused by food insecurity and natural disasters. Since April 2020, for example, the number of Afghans facing severe food shortages has nearly doubled to 20 million, more than half of the country’s 38.9 million population.
USAID and other international donors provided short-term bridge funding to prevent a complete collapse of Afghanistan’s public health system.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that donors contributed $1.67 billion to humanitarian assistance programs in Afghanistan in 2021, of which the United States contributed the largest amount, more than $425. millions of dollars. In January 2022, the White House announced additional US humanitarian assistance of $308 million.
The Taliban, however, has proven to be surprisingly good at revenue collection, raising $840 million between December 2021 and June 2022, a large portion (56%) of which came from customs revenue collection, as well as export. coal and fruit to Pakistan. .
According The Economistresearcher David Mansfield, who has studied Afghanistan’s illicit economy for 25 years, estimates the group earned between $27.5 and $35 million a year taxing the drug trade and about $245 million at checkpoints along major roads, where Taliban fighters extorted fees from truckers carrying food. and fuel.
As a result, the Taliban’s budget for the current fiscal year – 2022-23 – stands at $2.6 billion.
Although US and Taliban officials have exchanged proposals for the release of billions of dollars frozen abroad in a trust fund, significant differences remain between the parties. A sticking point is the Taliban’s commitment to guaranteeing Afghans’ rights to education and freedom of expression within the parameters of Islamic law.
Immediately after taking power, the Taliban sought to allay international concerns about the rights of Afghan women, insisting that the Islamic emirate is committed to women’s rights under Sharia law.
The group’s education ministry promised secondary schools for girls in grades 7-12 would reopen at the start of the spring semester in March 2022. However, the Taliban abruptly changed course on March 23, citing a need additional planning time to designate gender. – separate facilities. As of now, high school girls in most parts of the country are awaiting a decision, while boys’ schools reopened almost immediately after the fall of President Ghani’s administration.
However, some families manage to send their daughters to school. Although girls’ high schools have turned away students in Kabul, some have been able to resume classes for the start of the spring semester in the northern towns of Kunduz and Mazar-i-Sharif. Reports have also been reported in Nawabad, Ghazni province, of the continuation of classes in schools run by a Swedish NGO called the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA).
There are also several private companies aiming to overturn the government ban, such as secret schools run by activists like Pashtana Durrani, who told VOA, “I hold four classes for 400 girls in four different regions in two languages.”
These discrepancies seem indicative of what some observers describe as the largely erratic policymaking of the new government as it struggles to adopt a uniform, national approach to key issues, as well as divisions within the Taliban ranks.
When the Taliban were last in power, about 5,000 Afghan girls were in school. By 2018, the number had risen to 3.8 million.
There were also UNESCO reports on widespread corruption in the school sector.
Media, other freedoms
At their first press conference after taking power in August 2021, the Taliban said they would welcome a “free and independent press”.
But over the next month it issued a series of media guidelines that critics said amounted in some cases to prior censorship.
Women journalists are not allowed to work in public media and those working in private media can only appear with their faces covered; journalists in some provinces must seek permission from local officials before reporting; and with media companies banned from airing popular music or soap operas and entertainment programs, and sources of advertising revenue cut off, many outlets have closed.
Afghanistan fell to 156th place out of 180 countries in the RSF World Press Freedom Index, with Reporters Without Borders saying that the return to power of the Taliban “has had serious repercussions on respect for press freedom and the safety of journalists, especially women”.
In addition to media restrictions, a three-day conference of Taliban leaders in March decided that men in government jobs must wear beards and Islamic clothing to work, that city parks must be segregated by gender, and that women cannot travel by plane without an accompanying male relative, or mehram. The Taliban also ordered shopkeepers to remove the heads of all mannequins, calling them un-Islamic.
The provincial branch of the Taliban Ministry of Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has also banned women from public baths in Balkh and Herat provinces. For many women in these provinces, their only access to a bath was these hammams.
External relations, internal security
Domestically, the Taliban’s greatest threat comes from the Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) and al-Qaeda.
While the number of bombings has declined across the country since the Taliban took power, a school bombing killed at least six people in April. There was also a series of bombings in May 2022, some of which were claimed by Islamic State. A Sikh temple was targeted in Kabul in June, killing two and injuring seven, and a bomb blast during a cricket match in Kabul in July killed two.
Internationally, the Taliban has yet to be recognized by any country, but Taliban leaders have been invited to an international conference in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which included delegates from 30 other countries, including the EU, states States and representatives of the United Nations.
Western governments, however, insist the Taliban improve their women’s and human rights record, as well as inclusiveness in government, before they can meaningfully engage and grant official recognition. to the Taliban.
China has maintained direct communication with the Taliban administration, and the two sides have met repeatedly, bilaterally and internationally, to discuss Afghanistan’s reconstruction plans. Beijing has also been active in various international, multilateral and bilateral talks on Afghan issues with regional governments and international powers.
International organizations such as the Aga Khan Development Network continue their work to improve historic structures, parks and structural facilities.
This story originated in VOA’s Urdu service.