KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban government launched a programme to tackle hunger on Sunday, offering thousands of people wheat in exchange for labour.

The scheme will be rolled out around Afghanistan’s major towns and cities and employ 40,000 men in the capital alone, the Taliban’s chief spokesman said at a press conference in southern Kabul.

“This is an important step for fighting unemployment,” Zabihullah Mujahid said, adding the labourers must “work hard”. Afghanistan — which is already suffering from poverty, drought, electricity blackouts and a failing economic system — is now facing the onset of what may be a harsh winter.

The Taliban’s food-for-work scheme will not pay labourers, targeting those who are currently unemployed and most at risk of starvation during the winter.

The two-month programme will see 11,600 tons of wheat distributed in the capital, with about 55,000 tons for elsewhere in the country, including Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif and Pol-i-Khomri.

Swedish minister says Afghanistan will collapse into chaos unless the international community acts rapidly

Work for the labourers in Kabul will include digging water channels and catchment terraces for snow in the hills to combat drought.

Mujahid and other senior officials, including agriculture minister Abdul Rahman Rashid and Kabul mayor Hamdullah Nomani, cut a pink ribbon and dug a small ditch at a ceremony in the rural Rish Khor area of the capital to launch the programme.

Afghanistan would collapse into chaos unless the international community acted rapidly, warned a Swedish minister on Saturday. “The country is on the brink of collapse and that collapse is coming faster than we thought,” Swedish development minister Per Olsson Fridh said in Dubai. He said economic freefall could provide an environment for terrorist groups to thrive, but that Sweden would not channel money through the Taliban, instead boosting its humanitarian contributions through Afghan civil society groups. Many countries and multilateral institutions have halted development assistance but increased humanitarian aid since August, reluctant to legitimise the new Taliban rulers.

Fridh said the Taliban had so far failed to prove they had shed the oppressive policies that marked their previous period in power from 1996 to 2001. He also said conditions were not right for European countries to reopen embassies in Kabul. Instead, more diplomatic activity would take place in Qatar, an important interlocutor between the West and the Taliban. Fridh met Qatari officials in the capital Doha this week.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2021

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