Cash airlifts planned to bypass Taliban, help Afghans

Published October 8, 2021
Kabul: Traders sit behind stacks of banknotes at a currency market on Thursday. — Reuters
Kabul: Traders sit behind stacks of banknotes at a currency market on Thursday. — Reuters

BRUSSELS: As desperate Afghans resort to selling their belongings to buy food, officials are preparing to fly in cash for the needy while avoiding financing the Taliban government, according to people familiar with the confidential plans.

Planning for the cash airlifts is going ahead against the background of a rapidly collapsing economy where money is short, although diplomats are still debating whether Western powers can demand that the Taliban make concessions in return, according to internal policy documents seen by Reuters.

The emergency funding, aimed at averting a humanitarian crisis in the face of drought and political upheaval, could see US dollar bills flown into Kabul for distribution via banks in payments of less than $200 directly to the poor — with the Taliban’s blessing but without their involvement.

As well as flying in cash to stem the immediate crisis, donor countries want to set up a “humanitarian-plus” trust fund that would pay salaries and keep schools and hospitals open, two senior officials said.

Many Afghans have started selling their possessions to pay for ever scarcer food. The departure of US-led forces and many international donors robbed the country of grants that financed 75 per cent of public spending, according to the World Bank.

The West’s unorthodox strategy reflects the dilemma it faces. Still eager to help Afghanistan after two decades of war, and to prevent mass migration, it is also loath to giving money to the Taliban, who seized power in August and have yet to show significant change from the way they ruled the country between 1996 and 2001.

The United Nations has warned that 14 million Afghans face hunger. Mary-Ellen McGroarty, UN World Food Programme’s Afghan­is­tan director, said the economy could collapse in the face of the cash crisis.

The cash runs are a trial for larger air deliveries of dollars from Pakistan, the officials said.

A senior diplomat said two approaches are under consideration that would inject cash into the Afghan economy. Both are in the planning stages.

Under the first plan, the WFP would fly in cash and distribute it directly to people to buy food, expanding on something the agency already has been doing on a smaller scale.

The second approach would see cash flown in to be held by banks on behalf of the United Nations. That would be used to pay salaries to the staff of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, the diplomat said.

Published in Dawn, October 8th, 2021

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