Taliban prime minister shocks Afghans by brushing aside famine fears

UN says 22 million Afghans are facing severe food insecurity

A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan.  Reuters
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Taliban Prime Minister Mohammed Hassan Akhund has been criticised by Afghans and the international community over comments he made on the country's worsening famine crisis.

In his first speech since the extremist group took control of Afghanistan in August, Mr Akhund addressed the nation on Saturday in a radio broadcast.

During the 30-minute broadcast, the elusive Taliban leader touched upon issues of poverty, inflation, and even the Taliban’s brutal treatment of citizens, among other things.

However, his comments on the famine in Afghanistan earned sharp criticism.

The second khalifa of Islam delivered food to the destitute at night on his own shoulders. His servant offered to assist, but he said that God will ask him about this case, not his servant
Assem Mayar, expert in the study of droughts and famines

“The Taliban should not be blamed for the country’s problems … we are working overtime to solve the problems of the people,” he said. He added that the famine “is a test from God, after people rebelled against him”.

Afghanistan’s economy, which is largely dependent on foreign aid, received a severe blow after the fall of the Afghan government and the Taliban takeover, as many countries and international agencies withdrew their support and aid. This was compounded by increasing drought and displacement which has gone unaddressed, contributing to what has been called “the worst humanitarian crisis on Earth”.

Approximately 22.5 million Afghans are facing acute food insecurity in the coming months, according to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Program. Due to widespread unemployment and an economic crisis, many Afghan families are struggling to make ends meet, and have put up household items and personal belongings for sale to survive.

Afghans face daily struggle

Although Mr Akhund pleaded with humanitarian agencies to continue their aid to the Afghan people, many have criticised the Taliban’s inaction and lack of responsibility for the crisis, particularly those facing starvation.

“How can a leader say something like that to the face of the people who haven’t had anything for days,” said Jawid Samad, a 38-year-old employee of the former government from Kunduz, whose family has been suffering from food insecurity.

Mr Samad, who asked for his name be changed fearing Taliban reprisal, worked in a clerical position in an Afghan ministry and was fired when the insurgent group seized control. “When they announced that government employees could resume work, I went to the office. But I was sent away by the fighters, who told me 'you don’t belong here and your government is gone',” he said.

Mr Samad was then informed that his position had been filled and he was unceremoniously dismissed, plunging his family into a deep financial crisis. “I was a civilian and I never hurt a single Talib and they still snatched my only source of income.”

He said that the only meals his family have had in over a week are stale bread dipped in sweet tea. “There are nights we sleep without eating. We can’t afford milk for the babies,” he said. “Of course, they can’t provide us with food. But if they want to be our leaders, how can they refuse responsibility for the unemployment, famine, and suffering of Afghans?” he said.

Experts also agreed that Mr Akhund’s statements were an attempt to sidestep blame for the growing, interlinked crises.

“It was essentially an attempt to escape from responsibility,” Assem Mayar, an Afghan academic specialising in the study of droughts and famines, told The National. “Current droughts and famine are man-made, caused by climate change, which is the result of human activities, and even preventable if necessary measures are taken.” He advised the Taliban to take concrete measures to mitigate the food shortages.

“Putting all responsibility on God is not appropriate and efforts should be done to tackle the crisis,” he said. Mr Mayer added that there were several examples to seek inspiration from in Islamic history of leaders who’ve responded to food insecurity.

“The second khalifa of Islam delivered food to the destitute at night on his own shoulders. His servant offered to assist, but he said that God will ask him about this case, not his servant,” he said.

Updated: November 28, 2021, 5:24 PM