Afghanistan is experiencing tumultuous 2021 and a famine winter is coming

Few countries experienced as tumultuous 2021 as Afghanistan, with the departure of international troops and the return of the Taliban. But his misfortune is far from over, with the prospect of a harsh winter ahead.

The Taliban’s surprisingly swift return to power thwarted everyone – including the new leaders – and has left Afghans trying to make sense of what happened and glimpse what the future holds.

For the Taliban, the biggest challenge remains to stop being just insurgents and transform into a political and administrative body capable of managing a nation as complex and diverse as Afghanistan.

For Western countries like the United States and its NATO allies, fear has two faces: on the one hand, a deterioration in conditions that lead tens of thousands of Afghans to flee and seek refuge abroad, and on the other, that the The country will once again be a haven for radical groups like Al Qaida.

For ordinary Afghans, the immediate concerns are food, shelter and employment. And in the case of women, dealing with the destructive policy of the Taliban regarding their rights.

“The consequences of the reconquest are dire and immediate,” wrote Kate Clark in a special report by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN).

The Taliban “have no plans on how they will run the Afghan state without international aid, (whose withdrawal was) a completely predictable consequence of their decision to bet on a military victory.”

“In opposition, they levied taxes on the population under their control, but left public services entirely to the government, NGOs and donors,” he says.

“Now, in power, they find themselves with severely reduced government revenues and they have an entire population to serve,” he adds.

Few incentives to work

One of the biggest problems for the radical Islamist movement is the collapse of the bureaucracy.

Some 120,000 Afghans were evacuated in the chaotic final days of the US intervention, many of them professionals who worked with foreign powers to run an administration and economy dependent on international aid.

Many officials were unpaid for months, even before the Taliban return, and have little incentive to return to work without knowing when they will receive wages again.

“I go to the office in the morning, but there is nothing to do,” says Hazrullah, a mid-level official at the Foreign Ministry.

“Before, I worked on trade agreements with our neighbors. Now we have no guidelines on how to go about it. Nobody knows anything, ”he continues.

Part of the Islamist leadership has worked to present the new regime as different from the fundamentalist and brutal government of its first term, between 1996 and 2001. And, superficially at least, there have been some changes.

Women have not been officially ordered to wear a full burqa again or forced to be accompanied by a male relative when leaving home, although authorities say a male relative must accompany women on long trips.

But, with the exception of essential services such as the health sector, in practice, women are prohibited from working in the government. And as the Taliban try to accommodate the social reality of the country to their Islamic principles, young women cannot study.

Security in general has improved with the arrival of Islamists, but group attacks jihadist Islamic State are on the rise, especially against the minority shiite.

Women must deal with the moral rules of the Taliban. EFE

Difficult political decisions

The economy, however, will be what will shape the future of a country that is plunging into a great humanitarian crisis, which the UN described as an “avalanche of hunger.”

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns of a race against time to prevent 22.8 million people (55% of the population) from facing critical levels of food insecurity this winter.

The Taliban and foreign powers will have to strike a delicate balance in the months to come.
Donors worry about helping a pariah regime, while the Taliban believe their victory should not be jeopardized by issues like allowing women to work.

Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution allowing humanitarian aid to be sent to Afghans without letting the funds reach the Taliban.

The Islamists welcomed it as a “good step”, although they deny that the country faces a humanitarian crisis.

At the local level, some aid organizations can bypass official administration and distribute basic goods to people in need.

But There are areas where the Taliban leaders claim that they are the only ones with the right to distribute this assistance, which reinforces their authority and allows them to reward their faithful.

At the national level, the Taliban cannot afford to appear at the dictates of foreign powers and organizations, and their leaders insist that they must control funding and aid, something unacceptable for many donors.

“The economic benefits from peace will only be marginal compared to the damage done by the sheer loss of foreign income and the isolation that Afghanistan now faces,” insists Clark.

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