Taliban seize $12m from former officials as cash crunch hits Afghanistan

The financial situation in the country has millions struggling to make ends meet

People queue to withdraw money from a bank in Kabul, Afghanistan, on September12. EPA
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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 their rule a 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 desperately trying to make ends meet.

Even those with money in the bank are struggling, as branches limit withdrawals to the equivalent of $200 a week. Customers have 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 on Wednesday.

It later issued another statement saying Taliban fighters handed over $12.3m in cash and gold seized from the homes of officials from the former government.

They claimed that much of it came from 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 former soldier in the Afghan army, travelled nearly 1,000 kilometres from Faryab to the capital to try to collect his back pay.

"The branches of the banks are closed in the provinces," Mr Rahim told AFP on Wednesday, "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 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.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said this week he believed aid could be used to push the hardliners to improve human rights.

"It is very important to engage with the Taliban at the present moment," Mr Guterres said.

On Wednesday, players from the Afghan national girls' football team arrived in Pakistan with their coaches and families, after fearing a crackdown on sports.

Iran became the latest country to resume commercial flights to Afghanistan, days after Pakistan relaunched a service between Islamabad and Kabul.

One month into the Taliban's second rule, some Afghans are conceding there have been some improvements in their lives.

There has been better security in the capital, which for years was plagued by deadly suicide bomb attacks and assassinations blamed largely on the Taliban.

"Currently the situation of the country is good. There is no war," said Mohammad Ashraf.

Laalagha, a street seller, said he was no longer being shaken down by corrupt police officers, although he had switched to selling fruit because no one could afford to buy flowers.

"I am really satisfied with my new job," Laalagha said. "In the past the situation was like this ... a policeman would come and puncture the stall's tyre and he would beat you.

"Now no one is disturbing or creating problems."

But at least half the population face the possibility of not being employed.

"The Taliban have told us to stay home," said a woman who worked in the telecoms ministry of the old regime. "There is security, but if there is no food soon the situation will change."

The Taliban named an interim government last week and acting ministers have been spelling out policies that range from how women should dress at university to what sports can be played.

But they have been light on details of how the country will be run and when they will have the civil service functioning again.

"I am just happy they didn't kill me yet," said Abdul Rahim, who served with the old army's 209th corps until surrendering days before Kabul fell on August 15.

"If they revive the army I will join as a soldier again, but if not, I will have to find another job."

Updated: September 15, 2021, 9:44 PM