Afghanistan has transformed from an economy that relied on illicit enterprise in the twenty years since its last ruler, to one that is multi-billion dollar and fueled by international trade and donor aid. The Taliban, a rural clergy-led movement, was unable to comprehend the magnitude of this transformation.
The Associated Press was told by four employees of financial institutions that the Taliban had ordered bureaucrats from the previous government’s Finance Ministry, central banking and other state-owned bank to return to work. Three Taliban officials confirmed their accounts.
"They said to us, 'We're not experts, you know better, you can help the country survive these challenges,'" recalled one official of the state bank. He spoke under condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to.
He was told to do what he had to, but they also warned him that God is watching and would hold you accountable for your actions on Judgment day.
These technocrats quietly advise the Taliban leadership on the management of the financial sector. They give them advice on what and how to do it. They are seasoned experts and see no way out of Afghanistan’s economic crisis. With billions in international funds frozen they have only $500 million to $700million in domestic revenues. This is not enough to pay salaries or provide basic goods, but it is still a problem.
To keep the Taliban in business, they are strengthening their relationships with local businessmen. Meanwhile, the leadership is pushing for international recognition at meetings with foreign officials.
Mid-August saw the Taliban take power, resulting in a sudden halt to all donor funds. These disbursements accounted to 45% GDP and funded 75% state expenditures including salaries for the public sector. The total government spending was nearly $11 billion in 2019.
The United Nations predicts that 95% of the population will be hungry, and that 97% of the country could fall below the poverty line due to ongoing drought.
In compliance with international sanctions against Taliban, the United States frozen billions of dollars in reserves. This eroded the liquidity of the central bank as well as commercial banks and limited their ability to conduct international transactions.
This has weakened international trade, which is a keystone of Afghanistan's economy. Due to the sanctions risks, intermediary banks in other countries are reluctantly engaging in transactions. However, informal trade continues. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economy will shrink sharply.
Nearly every meeting at the Finance Ministry or central bank revolves around procuring staples such as flour to prevent hunger, centralizing customs collection and finding revenue sources in times of critical shortages. All fuel oil, up to 80% of electricity, and 40% of wheat are imported in Afghanistan.
Technocrats have many frustrations.
They said that there isn’t enough local currency (the afghani) in circulation. This is because the previous government didn't print enough currency prior to August's fall of Kabul.
The halls once bustling with workers are now quiet. Ministry workers are now only present once or twice per week. No one is being paid a salary. One department responsible for donor relations had 250 employees and handled up to 40 countries. Now it has 50 employees and one interlocutor, the United Nations.
There are no women.
Many people are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Taliban leadership.
One ministry official stated that they don't get the magnitude. "We used to have a $9 billion economy, but now we have less that $1 billion."
He was quick to apologize. "Why would they expect them to understand international money policy?" They are guerrilla fighters by heart."
Returned government workers stated that the Taliban seem sincere in their desire to eradicate corruption and provide transparency.
They don't know everything. The Taliban keep the cash balance in their state coffers a closely guarded secret. Officials from the Ministry and banks estimate that this amount could be between $160 million and $350 million.
Another bank official said that the "they are very sincere about their country, they want boost morale, and to create friendly relations with neighbouring countries." They don't have any expertise in financial or banking issues. They asked us to return and said that we would do our work honestly.
Mawlawi Abdul Jabbar said that the Taliban government advisers are "with government." They are also working on financial issues to resolve these problems.
The Taliban are improving relations with businessmen who trade basic goods with neighbouring countries.
Abdul-Hameed Hamasi, a Taliban advisor, is a strong advocate for building business relationships. Recently, he was embraced by the son of a prominent businessman Baz Mohammed Gahairat.
Ghairat's factories produce everything, from cooking oil to wheat. Hamasi claimed that the Taliban provided security to him, which included permission to drive in bulletproof cars so that his business could continue.
Ghairat is most concerned about central bank withdrawal limits. He said that traders cannot be paid if he does not have access to deposits.
Economic woes were the catalyst for the rise of Taliban. The former government was rife with corruption and poor management.
Inflation increased and economic growth slowed in the first months 2021. As fuel and food prices rose, drought hampered agricultural production.
Things were made worse by the Taliban's capture and control of transit hubs and border posts ahead of Kabul's fall.
Two to three months had passed since salaries were received by government officials, teachers and civil servants. Many people sold their household goods and accumulated debts to help make ends meet.
Sayed Miraza (an employee of the Agriculture Ministry) arrived at the bank at 4:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. Already, people were lining up to withdraw their weekly limit of 20,000 Afghanis (or $200) each week.
Miraza's account has been closed. Miraza came to collect a Western Union transfer from his nephew in the U.S. He said that he ran out of food and had to ask for assistance. He was still waiting at 9 a.m.
Hematullah Midanwal, a Kabul flea-market seller, sells items for people who are short of money.
He said, "They sometimes come with their entire living room, down to the spoons."
Many people want to leave Afghanistan. The AP interviewed every one of them and found that they would leave Afghanistan if given the chance.
According to one central bank official, he was still waiting for his asylum papers in order to travel to Western countries. "If it comes I will certainly leave. I will never again work with the Taliban."