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Afghanistan, a country on the brink of collapse

How do you deal with a country when 20 of its 33 most senior officials are on the UN sanctions list and its Home Secretary is wanted by the FBI, with a $ 10 million reward? Faced with the coming to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the international community remains undecided. The fundamentalist group’s refusal to honor its promises of openness means that recognition of the regime is not on the agenda.

→ TRIBUNE. Eva Joly: “Without immediate aid, the Afghans will die en masse this winter”

But while the humanitarian organizations witness the collapse of the country in dismay, the procrastination of the great powers seems to them more and more irrelevant. “We don’t have time anymore, it’s already five past midnight” alert Dominik Stillhart, director of operations for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The problem of cash

Because Afghanistan is in free fall. 97% of its population could, according to a UN report, fall below the poverty line next year, when nearly 24 million people already suffer from hunger. The organization did not hide its amazement at an economic collapse of a magnitude “That we have never observed before, never”, told the Financial Times Abdallah Al Dardari, the representative in Afghanistan of the United Nations Development Program. Afghanistan’s GDP plunged 20% in a matter of weeks – it had taken Syria five years of civil war to achieve the same result. An extreme vulnerability that food insecurity and the biting cold of the Afghan winter could turn into a humanitarian disaster.

The arrival of the Taliban in Kabul on August 15 resulted, literally overnight, in the cessation of financial aid on which the Afghan state had been totally dependent for twenty years. A cataclysm has come to combine with the freezing of the assets of the Afghan Central Bank by Washington and the sanctions targeting the fundamentalist group, which paralyzes foreign banks with fear and blocks the entry of liquidity into the country. Consequence, a collapse of the banking system and a lack of money in circulation which further complicates the work of NGOs still on site.

“In the field, the problem is that of cash, how to pay people and in particular suppliers”, explains Sarah Chateau, Afghanistan program manager for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Some NGOs are forced to delay payments. Others use the system of hawala, an informal network of brokers across the country making it possible to transfer money on a simple promise of subsequent repayment. Finally, others, especially the smaller ones, had to stop operating in the country.

The European Union and the United States have pledged $ 1.29 billion for the country. But the international community is still hesitant about the way forward, fearing that the aid sent will ultimately fall into the hands of the Taliban.

Arrangements to bypass the Taliban

In October, the UN tried its own experiment to support the country’s medical sector by bypassing the official system. More than 23,500 medical workers across the country have collected their salaries – about $ 150 a month for a nurse and $ 700 for a surgeon – without the agency having, as it would have done just a few months ago. , to pay the money to the ministry of health. “90% of employees received their salary directly into their bank account, and those who do not have an account, generally in the most isolated regions, received it in cash”, The Development Agenda explains in a statement.

Experience has certainly made it possible to deal with the most urgent, but “It is not viable in the long term”, assures Torek Farhadi, former economist at the IMF and the World Bank. “It can work in East Timor, but here we are talking about a country of 39 million inhabitants, at least half of whom need help,” explains this ex-adviser to former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. “It’s important to keep the health system afloat, Judge Dominik Stillhart, but to imagine that in the long term we can bypass all the ministries is an illusion. “ Same story with Doctors Without Borders: “When we pay an electricity bill, we pay it to the State”, Sarah Chateau simply notes. To the state, and therefore to the Taliban.

The behavior of the new masters of Afghanistan nevertheless continues to make the great powers hesitate. “We hoped that the Taliban would make concessions to the international community, and we see that in the end, they are not able to reform themselves”, explains Torek Farhadi.

Keep the economy afloat

Unrivaled winners, the Taliban very quickly forgot the promises of inclusive government and respect for human rights professed for several years by their spokespersons. Commitments to which Washington had linked the maintenance of aid, as summarized on November 19 by Thomas West, United States special representative for Afghanistan: “For years, US officials have warned the Taliban that if they favored a seizure of power by force rather than a negotiated deal with their compatriots, the critical non-humanitarian aid offered by the international community would cease. That’s what happened. “ The fear of legitimizing the new power, the belief in the possibility of delivering humanitarian aid without helping the Taliban, or even the desire to strengthen the pressure on the fundamentalist group to push it to concessions, are all factors behind the temptation to limit oneself to emergency humanitarian aid. An illusion that would lead to a disaster of which the Afghans would be the first victims, warn NGOs and experts.

“If the aid consists only of peanut butter and penicillin, if there is no liquidity, no cash injected into the country, we will only stagger from humanitarian crisis to humanitarian crisis”, warns Vanda Felbab-Brown, analyst at the US think tank Brookings and director of the Non-State Armed Groups Initiative. For it is in many cases the lack of currency in circulation that prevents Afghans from buying food, even when market stalls are full. “Money must come in to slow down the crisis and revive the economy a little”, she judges.

“Humanitarian aid was never designed to replace a crumbling economy, Dominik Stillhart approves. The longer the situation lasts, the greater the risk that the whole system will collapse. And this crisis of political legitimacy is taking the entire Afghan population hostage, which has known nothing but war and violence. “ And who, for some of them, risks dying of hunger today.

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Battle over Afghan central bank holdings

It was in a letter to the United States Congress that the Taliban demanded in November “The thaw of the assets of the Afghan central bank”, with a majority of nearly $ 10 billion in this bank’s holdings being held in New York by the Federal Reserve Bank.

But these assets aren’t just coveted by the Taliban: groups of 9/11 victims are now demanding that the money be used to enforce a judgment awarding them $ 7 billion in damages.

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Three months of Taliban rule

August 15, 2021: the Taliban enter Kabul after several weeks of a lightning offensive and seize power in Afghanistan.

August 30: the coalition ends evacuation operations that will allow more than 100,000 people to leave the country.

September 7: the Taliban announce a government made up of the most radical figures of the movement.

October 15: an attack claimed by the Islamic State group kills 47 people in Kandahar, a stronghold of the Taliban.

December 3: the Taliban government provides in a decree that women must “Consent” at their wedding. But he said nothing on the subject of education.

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