Their destination is a bakery, one of many in Kabul, where late afternoon throngs of women have gathered patiently waiting for customers who could give them some bread.
“Sometimes we have dinner, sometimes we don’t,” says Rahmati. “The situation was bad for three years, but this last year was the worst. My husband tried to go to Iran to work but he was deported.”
They are sobering statistics that sum up the first year under Taliban rule, during which the nation was isolated and increasingly impoverished. When the US and its allies left the country, they imposed sanctions, froze $9 billion in central bank funds and halted foreign aid, which once accounted for almost 80% of Afghanistan’s annual budget.
In front of the Foreign Ministry, a large mural, one of the few in English, proclaims the Taliban government’s official stance: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants positive and peaceful relations with the world.”
But after a year of rule, the Taliban have yet to be recognized by any single country in the world, while international funding is still largely frozen. One of the main problems for western countries has been the marginalization of minorities and women by the new government, which includes a de facto ban on secondary education for girls.
Repeated promises by the Taliban to allow girls to return to school have yet to be met. In late June, Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada resisted international pressure and said Afghanistan would make its own rules.
“The fact remains that the United States is trying to find moral justifications for the collective punishment of the Afghan people by freezing assets and imposing sanctions on Afghanistan overall,” State Department spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi told CNN Saturday: “I don’t think there should be any conditions for the release of funds that don’t belong to me, that didn’t belong to the previous government, that didn’t belong to the previous government. This is the collective money of the people of Afghanistan.”
Amid fears of full-blown famine last winter, the US released over $1 billion in aid — through the World Bank.
“This is an example of an area where we want to continue to engage in a pragmatic dialogue with the Taliban,” a senior State Department official told CNN. “We will speak to them about access to humanitarian aid, measures that we believe can improve the country’s macroeconomic stability.”
But a growing chorus of aid workers and economists say that is not enough and that the prolonged freeze on Afghanistan’s funds is having a devastating impact.
“That’s a message no one wants to hear,” Vicki Aken, country director of the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan, told CNN. “This policy endangers women here. In the name of feminist politics, we see women dying of hunger.”
According to a senior State Department official, the US is not close to recapitalizing Afghanistan’s central bank. Although there have been discussions on the matter, the official said they still have major concerns about the possible diversion of assets to terrorism.
“We have no confidence that this institution has the safeguards and oversight to manage assets in a responsible and inclusive manner. Needless to say, the Taliban’s hosting of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces deep concerns we have long had about the diversion of funds to terrorist groups,” they said.
At the markets in Kabul, the stalls are groaning with fresh fruit and vegetables. The problem, vendors say, is that most people can’t afford them.
“The price of flour has doubled. The price of cooking oil has more than doubled,” says a seller.
A few meters away, a young boy is rummaging through a dumpster, collecting plastic waste to resell.
“Humanitarian aid only buys time. It doesn’t develop, it doesn’t raise income, it doesn’t create jobs,” said Anthony Cordesman, chair emeritus for strategy at the nonpartisan research organization Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Cordesman warns that Afghanistan’s overall economic decline did not begin with the return of the Taliban to power, nor did the country’s dependence on foreign aid.
“When we find ways to negotiate an effective aid process, where we know the money will get to the people, where it will be widely distributed, where it doesn’t simply support the Taliban government, then those are negotiating initiatives that we should be pursuing so strongly.” to do as possible. But creating a web of lies – the equivalent of a house of cards-based aid process – taking this money that could go to many other countries that can use aid effectively makes no sense.”
As nights get cooler and days shorter in Kabul, humanitarian workers fear this winter will be even worse than last.
“It is not in America’s interest to see the economy implode,” the senior State Department official said. “We recognize that the humanitarian crisis remains serious and dire.”