Afghanistan: Taliban inherit economic crisis, looming famine, other challenges.
Ailing economy, drought among major challenges
KABUL, Afghanistan – The Taliban reveled in their victory after the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, reiterating their pledge Tuesday to bring peace and security to the country after decades of war.
Having humbled the world’s most powerful military, the Taliban face the challenge of governing a nation of 38 million people that relies heavily on international aid, and imposing some form of Islamic rule on a population that is far more educated and cosmopolitan than it was when the group last governed Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Hours later, turbaned Taliban leaders flanked by fighters from the group’s elite Badri unit toured the abandoned airport and posed for photos.
“Afghanistan is finally free,” said Hekmatullah Wasiq, a top Taliban official. “Everything is peaceful. Everything is safe.”
He urged people to return to work and reiterated the Taliban’s offer of amnesty to all Afghans who had fought against the group over the last 20 years. “People have to be patient,” he said. “Slowly we will get everything back to normal. It will take time.”
A long-running economic crisis has worsened since the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country in mid-August, with people crowding banks to maximize their daily withdrawal limit of about $200.
Civil servants haven’t been paid in months, and the local currency is losing value. Most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and currently frozen.
“We keep coming to work, but we are not getting paid,” said Abdul Maqsood, a traffic police officer on duty near the airport. He said he hasn’t received his salary in four months.
A major drought threatens the food supply, and thousands who fled during the Taliban’s lightning advance remain in squalid camps.
“Afghanistan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe,” said Ramiz Alakbarov, the local U.N. humanitarian coordinator.
There are few signs of the draconian restrictions the Taliban imposed last time they were in power.
Schools have reopened to boys and girls, though Taliban officials have said they will study separately.
Women are on the streets wearing Islamic headscarves, as they always have, rather than the all-encompassing burqa the Taliban required in the past.
When the Taliban last ruled the country, from 1996 to 2001, they banned television, music and photography, but there’s no sign of that yet. TV stations are still operating normally, and the Taliban fighters can be seen taking selfies around Kabul.
On Tuesday, the sound of dance music trickled out of an upscale wedding hall in Kabul, where a celebration was in full swing inside.
Shadab Azimi, the 26-year-old manager, said at least seven wedding parties had been held since the Taliban takeover.
Azimi said a Taliban patrol stops by a couple times a day, but only to ask if he needs help with security. Unlike the now-disbanded police of the toppled, Western-backed government, the Taliban don’t ask for bribes, he said.