KABUL: Afghanistan’s central bank said on Wednesday that the Taliban had seized more than $12 million in cash and gold from the homes of former government officials, as a financial crunch threatens the group's rule one month after they took back power.
Most government employees have yet to return to work — and in many cases salaries had already not been paid for months — leaving millions scrambling to make ends meet.
Even those with money in the bank are struggling, as branches limit withdrawals to the equivalent of $200 a week — with customers having to queue for hours.
And while remittances have resumed from abroad, customers awaiting funds at international chains such as Western Union and MoneyGram complained on Wednesday that branches they visited had run out of cash.
The bank has called on all transactions in the aid-dependent country to be made in local currency.
“All Afghans in the government and non-governmental organisations are asked to use Afghani in their contracts and economic transactions,” the central bank said.
The bank later issued another statement saying Taliban fighters handed over $12.3 million in cash and gold seized from the homes of officials from the former government — a large part discovered at the home of former vice president Amrullah Saleh.
“The money recovered came from high-ranking officials... and a number of national security agencies who kept cash and gold in their homes,” the bank said.
“It is, however, still not known for what purpose they were kept.”
Abdul Rahim, a demobbed soldier in the former Afghan army, travelled nearly 1,000 kilometres from Faryab to the capital to try and collect his backpay.
“The branches of the banks are closed in the provinces,” he said, “and in Kabul, thousands of people queue to get their money out.” “I have been going to the bank for the past three days but in vain.”
The Taliban on Tuesday thanked the world after a donor conference in Geneva pledged $1.2 billion in aid for Afghanistan, but the country’s needs are immediate.
Donor nations, however, want conditions attached to their contributions and are loath to support a regime with as bloody a reputation as the Taliban.
The hardline Islamists have promised a milder form of rule compared to their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001, but have moved swiftly to crush dissent — including firing in the air to disperse recent protests by women calling for the right to work.
Still, UN chief Antonio Guterres said this week he believed aid could be used as leverage with the Islamist hardliners to exact improvements on human rights.
“It is very important to engage with the Taliban at the present moment,” he said.
On Wednesday, players from the Afghan national girls’ football team arrived in Pakistan with their coaches and families, fearing a crackdown on sports.
While Iran became the latest country to resume commercial flights to Afghanistan, days after Pakistan relaunched a service between Islamabad and Kabul.
One month into their second rule, some Afghans are conceding there have been some improvements in their lives — not least security in the capital, which for years was plagued by deadly suicide bomb attacks and targeted assassinations blamed largely on the Taliban.
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021