September 15 (Reuters) – One month after capturing Kabul, the Taliban are facing formidable problems as they attempt to convert their lightning-fast military victory into a lasting peace government.
After four decades of war and tens of thousands of deaths, security has largely improved, but Afghanistan’s economy remains in ruins despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on development over the past 20 years.
Drought and famine are driving thousands from the countryside to the cities, and the World Food Program fears that food will run out by the end of the month and push up to 14 million people to the brink of starvation.
While much attention in the West has been directed to whether the new Taliban government keeps its promises to protect women’s rights or to protect militant groups like al-Qaeda, survival is paramount for many Afghans.
“Every Afghan, children, they are hungry, they do not have a single sack of flour or cooking oil,” said Abdullah, who lives in Kabul.
Long lines still form outside the banks, where weekly withdrawal limits of $ 200 or 20,000 afghanis have been imposed to protect the country’s dwindling reserves.
Impromptu markets have sprung up all over Kabul in which people sell household goods for cash, even though there is a shortage of buyers.
Even with billions of dollars in development aid, Afghanistan’s economy struggled as growth failed to keep pace with steady population growth. Jobs are scarce and many government employees have been unpaid for at least July.
While most people seem to have welcomed the end of the fighting, any relief has been dampened by the near halt in the economy.
“Security is pretty good at the moment, but we don’t earn anything,” said a butcher from the Bibi Mahro district in Kabul, who refused to give his name. “Every day it’s getting worse, more bitter for us. It’s a really bad situation.”
Following the chaotic evacuation of Kabul from abroad last month, first aid flights have started when the airport reopens.
International donors have pledged over $ 1 billion to prevent the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres from being “the collapse of an entire country.”
But the global response to the government of Taliban veterans and hardliners announced last week has been cool, with no signs of international recognition or moves to release more than $ 9 billion in foreign exchange reserves outside of Afghanistan.
Although Taliban officials have said they do not intend to repeat the harsh fundamentalist rule of the previous government that followed the 9/11 attacks.
Widespread reports of civilians being killed, journalists and others being beaten, and doubts as to whether the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law is being respected have undermined confidence.
In addition, there is deep distrust of high-level government officials such as the new Secretary of the Interior, Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is described by the United States as a global terrorist with a $ 10 million bounty on his head.
To make matters worse for the Taliban, the movement had to fight speculation about deep internal divisions within its own ranks and denies rumors that Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar was killed in a shootout with Haqqani supporters.
Officials say the government is working to get services back online and the roads are now safe, but as the war subsides, solving the economic crisis threatens as a bigger problem.
“The thefts have disappeared. But bread has also disappeared,” said one shopkeeper.
Reporting by James Mackenzie; Adaptation by Mike Collett-White
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