The Taliban are in a celebratory mood. Afghanistan has just defeated its third Western empire and they can take the credit. The Afghans humiliated the British in the 19th century, the Russians in the 20th and and now the Americans in the 21st.
Unfortunately, however, you can’t warm your home or feed your children with military glory. And the Afghan people are desperately in need of both fuel and food as winter settles in.
Afghanistan’s economy was already in a shambles from decades of war and a vicious drought, to say nothing of Covid, and now the American retreat threatens what remains.
The American military is a voracious beast. Its demands for a variety of services provided businesses and jobs for millions of Afghans. Now the beast has gone and those incomes with it.
Furthermore, the Afghan government kept most of its central bank’s main funds in the Federal Reserve in New York. (The Fed is a trusted financial institution and the U.S. dollar one of the most stable currencies.) The Americans are not about to release these funds because they consider the Taliban an illegitimate government.
And then there’s the drying up of foreign aid, the source of 75 percent of the previous government’s budget, the funds that paid teachers, health care workers and other civil servants. The U.S. has pressured the IMF and the World Bank to cut off aid, and other agencies are hindered by their banks reluctance to handle funds as it could leave them vulnerable to American sanctions.
The Taliban have access to other resources of course, including custom revenues and opium. And the Americans are not entirely cold-hearted. They have made exemptions to help foreign banks feel comfortable transferring UN money to Afghanistan. They have also met with Taliban leaders to negotiate a loosening of restrictions in return for a more inclusive government. But this will help little in getting Afghans through the winter.
As a result of war and drought the countryside, where 70 percent of Afghans live, lacks stores of food and fuel. Aid organizations warn that a million children face starvation.
So not enough that the people have been abandoned to a brutally oppressive regime. The American retreat has also abetted collapse of the economy and all the suffering that follows. While the Taliban exult, the people pray.