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'We Don't Have Any Money': Taliban Takeover Plunges Afghanistan Into Economic Turmoil


A burqa-clad Afghan woman looks for items to buy at a shop displaying used household items for sale at a market area in Kabul.

KABUL -- Hundreds of Afghans stand along dusty roadsides in the capital, Kabul, desperately trying to sell their meager possessions.

Many offer used pots, plates, and cups that are piled up on bedsheets. Others sell tattered mattresses and old rugs or hope someone will buy their television or refrigerator.

"There are no jobs and we don't have any money," says Haji Aziz, an unemployed cook who stands by a heap of kitchen utensils for sale along a busy road in downtown Kabul. "I'm trying to sell whatever I can so I can feed my family," says Aziz, a weary, middle-aged man who is the sole breadwinner for his family of nine.

He is among millions of Afghans who are reeling from the economic shocks of the Taliban's rapid takeover of Afghanistan, an impoverished, war-scarred country of some 38 million people.

Since the militant group's capture of Kabul on August 15, residents have been hit by soaring food prices and cash shortages. Inflation has surged and the value of the national currency, the afghani, has plummeted.

Many businesses and stores remain closed. Government workers, many of whom have gone into hiding, have been unpaid. Thousands of people line up outside banks and ATMs as armed Taliban fighters attempt to keep order.

'Significant Economic Obstacles'

Even before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan's economy was extremely fragile, propped up for 20 years by foreign aid. International assistance accounts for around 40 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).

But since the militant group regained power, foreign donors have suspended aid to Afghanistan. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also halted payments.

Foreign reserves of the Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the central bank, have also been frozen. DAB has reserves of around $9 billion, most of which is held in the United States.

A Taliban fighter walks past shoppers at the Mandawi market in Kabul on September 1.
A Taliban fighter walks past shoppers at the Mandawi market in Kabul on September 1.

"Given the frozen reserves and reduced donor flows, the new administration will face significant economic obstacles," Ajmal Ahmady, the former governor of DAB who fled Kabul after the Taliban takeover, told RFE/RL.

He expects most economic indicators -- including rising inflation, cash shortages, and a plummeting currency -- to "worsen."

Afghanistan's GDP is predicted to shrink by nearly 10 percent this financial year, with a further drop of 5 percent next year.

Foreign investment from "some major economies, namely China and potentially Russia," could prevent an economic collapse in Afghanistan, said Fitch Ratings, a top U.S. financial firm. But that scenario assumes that Moscow and Beijing -- which have contacts with the militant group -- would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government.

Experts say the Afghan economy could collapse, a grim scenario that could spur widespread hunger and worsen an already devastating humanitarian crisis.

More than 550,000 Afghans have been internally displaced since January 2021, bringing the total number of displaced Afghans to almost 4 million, according to the UN. It says nearly half of Afghanistan's 38 million people need humanitarian assistance to survive.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on September 1 of a looming "humanitarian catastrophe" in Afghanistan as he urged countries to provide emergency funding following the final departure of foreign troops on August 31.

He said basic services threatened to collapse "completely" amid the "deepening humanitarian and economic crisis" in Afghanistan.

'We Have No Choice'

With the economy on the brink of collapse, Afghanistan is facing a mass exodus of people.

Tens of thousands of Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals fled Kabul, the scene of deadly and chaotic evacuation efforts led by the United States and other NATO countries that ended on August 30.

Tens of thousands of other Afghans who worked with foreign forces were left behind. They, along with others facing economic hardship and the prospect of life under hard-line Taliban rule, are pouring into neighboring Pakistan and Iran, from where some will pay smugglers to take them as far as Turkey and Western Europe.

The situation was already desperate for some before the Taliban took Kabul. Internally displaced families who fled fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces receive food in Kabul on August 9.
The situation was already desperate for some before the Taliban took Kabul. Internally displaced families who fled fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces receive food in Kabul on August 9.

The International Organization for Migration estimates that 2021 could see up to 1.5 million Afghans fleeing westward in search of safety and jobs.

Those who remain in Afghanistan are resorting to desperate measures, as household items are going up for sale on roadsides around the country.

"Many people are selling off whatever valuable they have," says Nematullah, a shopkeeper in Kabul.

For some it is about survival, earning enough to feed their families each day. Others will use the money to flee their homeland and its new fundamentalist rulers.

"People are desperate," says Nematullah. "There are no jobs and no money. People don't have any other choice."

Written by Frud Bezhan in Prague with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Azadi correspondents in Afghanistan. Their names are being withheld for their safety.
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    Frud Bezhan

    Frud Bezhan covers Afghanistan and Pakistan, with a focus on politics, the Taliban insurgency, and human rights. He has reported from Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Turkey. Prior to joining RFE/RL in 2011, he worked as a freelance journalist in Afghanistan and contributed to several Australian newspapers, including The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

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    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi

    RFE/RL's Radio Azadi, one of the most popular and trusted media outlets in Afghanistan, is based in Kabul and supported by a nationwide network of local Dari- and Pashto-speaking journalists. Nearly half of the country's adult audience accesses Azadi's reporting on a weekly basis.

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