The greatest nightmare for the almost 40 million people in the country, though, is a different one: It’s not revenge and murder that are driving the Afghans into desperation, but the state’s financial collapse. Prior to the Taliban takeover, three-quarters of state spending came from abroad, with much of it disappearing due to corruption. What the Taliban took over a year ago was essentially an illusion of a state propped up by billions of foreign dollars – a state that collapsed as soon as the money from abroad ceased flowing.
The army, the police and pretty much the entire armada of civil servants – save for healthcare workers and teachers, which have been funded at times by the Red Cross and the UN – have gone for an entire year without receiving salaries. Shops, businesses and restaurants have gone broke.
The Taliban may have fought the government in the belief that it was merely a servant to the infidels, but the Islamists also thought that these infidels would continue funding the country. At least they failed to come up with a plan for replacing the predictable cessation of Western payments.
Only months after their victory did they hectically begin levying higher and higher taxes on coal mining, gold mining, market stands, the export of almonds and pomegranates, and even on parking in Kabul. None of which changed the fact that the Afghan state is essentially bankrupt.
If the UN’s World Food Program hadn’t expended great effort since last autumn to expand its Afghanistan program, famine would almost certainly have been the result. Until the Taliban takeover, the WFP was feeding a million Afghans per month. Last winter, it was almost 18 million, nearly half of the country’s population. And that was even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, prior to the global rise in grain prices. The only bright spot for the country’s farmers is that the feared second year of drought never materialized. Instead, it rained almost everywhere in the country into July, so torrentially at times that numerous people lost their lives in flooding.
The Taliban doesn’t even have enough money to pay their own people, which has led to a situation that some fighters at roadblocks audibly complain about their commanders, saying they drive around in large offroad vehicles and eat at restaurants. In early June, a Talib asked us if we could perhaps help him out with a donation for his upcoming wedding.
Still, the incredible loyalty of the Taliban foot soldiers has yet to appreciably erode after spending years committed to a jihad against an amoral, corrupt government propped up by the Americans. Eager acceptance of Western money and the attached conditions would likely be seen as a betrayal of Islam. The terrorist movement Islamic State, which is extremely active in the country, has already begun accusing the Taliban of abandoning its holy principles.
To pacify the hardliners within its ranks, the Taliban leadership in late March made what was likely the most momentous decision of its brief rule: On the day the new school year began, they broke their promise to keep secondary schools open for girls.
“They are suffocating us, step by step,” said a teacher over the phone, a young woman who had participated in a women’s demonstration in Kabul just last September. “The school was my only chance to have a life outside the home.” In response, the World Bank immediately froze a planned $600-million program, and Western recognition of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” became even more unlikely. Ten large donor nations called the decision “deeply disturbing.”
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