Afghan businessman Shoaib Barak struggles to pay his workers and suppliers, unable to access funds from a banking system crippled by the country’s assets frozen abroad.
They, in turn, cannot pay their bills – and so the country’s economic woes reverberate and hurt everyone along an unbroken chain of misery.
“I am very ashamed,” said Barak, who until recently employed some 200 people across the country, mostly in his construction company.
“For me, for every Afghan, it’s really disgusting. I don’t even have the capacity to pay the salaries of my staff.”
To avoid giving the Taliban access to Afghanistan’s reserves, Washington froze an estimated $ 10 billion held by the central bank abroad after die-hard Islamists took power on August 15.
Equaling to about half of what the country’s economy produced last year, this move in turn deprived banks used by Afghan businesses and citizens of access to dollars.
Even if limited funds were released, most of it could be stranded in the US legal system for years while still being the subject of claims by victims of Al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Normally, the reserves could be used to pay overdue government bills and development projects, but the freeze has spread to the rest of the economy.
“Just release the reserves,” pleaded Barak.
“If you have a problem with … the Taliban, don’t take revenge on the nation, on the people.”
– The currency has plunged –
Barak’s cash flow crisis illustrates the problems facing tens of thousands of Afghans who simply cannot access most of their money.
He says he has around $ 3 million tied up in Afghan banks – money earned over the years through lucrative private and government contracts, which was paid for in dollars as aid poured into them. public funds under the pre-Taliban regime.
But with local banks limiting weekly withdrawals to five percent of a business account balance – up to a maximum of $ 5,000 – Barak is months behind on bills and salaries for his staff.
Ahmad Zia is one of them.
The 55-year-old engineer was making 60,000 Afghans a month, the equivalent of $ 770 before the Taliban took power and the currency fell 25%.
Four months later, Zia is struggling to make ends meet and fears her once comfortable family of six will “eat once or twice” a day.
It’s not just Barak’s employees who are suffering.
Ehsanullah Maroof’s now defunct legal business depended heavily on a monthly supply from Barak’s construction company.
“The children went to a very good school,” he told AFP, proudly noting that his nine-year-old daughter, Rana, won her year.
But now he can’t afford the right medication for a son with epilepsy, and Rana has been kicked out because the family can’t afford school fees.
– Lack of food –
The misery extends even further – to the Maroof family’s maid, who is now unemployed.
Gulha, 42, earned 8,000 Afghans a month and was the main breadwinner in her family of seven.
Now she’s two months behind on rent and out of food.
“I have 14 kilograms (30 pounds) of rice, 20-21 kilograms of flour and a little oil,” she told AFP in a studio where she allows neighbors to share the heat at night. of a wood stove as winter approaches.
“It’s going to last 10 days.”
Once that is gone, she will join millions of her compatriots who are totally dependent on aid.
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a US resolution to help humanitarian aid reach desperate Afghans while seeking to keep funds out of the hands of the Taliban – a move hailed by Islamists as ” good step “.
But the arrival of enough money to contain the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe still depends on “the viability of the banking system,” said Hanna Luchnikava-Schorsch, senior economist for Asia-Pacific at IHS Markit.
Many Afghan banks are “rather on the verge of collapse,” she told AFP, and foreign institutions will likely be “terrified” of falling under sanctions despite the resolution. of ONU.
For many ordinary Afghans, any relief will come too late.
International organizations are warning that one million Afghan children could die this winter, Barak notes.
âWho do you think will be blamed – the Taliban or the United States?