'Some days we are not lucky': Afghanistan's dire Ramadan under Taliban rule
It’s just minutes before sunset, about the time that Muslims break their fast after spending the whole day without eating and drinking. Around 200 men are waiting in front of a mosque in the east of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, to receive food from a local charity that is providing food packages to several hundred people in economic precarity across Kabul every day.
Some of these men come to the mosque after a long and difficult day to save a one-time meal so they can get food for the rest of their family with the little money they earned from daily labour.
“We have family and we have to take something home to feed them,” one labourer told The New Arab. “Some days we are not lucky,” he added.
Charities, supported by locals and the Afghan diaspora, provide free meals throughout the city, but it’s nearly impossible for them to keep up with the ever-increasing number of people in need.
"As Afghans join other Muslims across the globe to observe the holy month of Ramadan, over half of the country’s population is facing acute food insecurity, a situation described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises by the UN"
As Afghans join other Muslims across the globe to observe the holy month of Ramadan, over half of the country’s population is facing acute food insecurity, a situation described as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises by the United Nations. The UN estimates that 97 percent of Afghans could fall into poverty this year.
This is the first Ramadan since the Taliban took power in August last year following the catastrophic withdrawal of US troops. The country’s heavily aid-dependent economy, mostly funded by international donors, shrunk overnight after the withdrawal of international security forces and the halt of development projects following Taliban’s takeover. The subsequent freezing of Afghanistan’s funds in overseas reserves and international sanctions have further pushed the country’s economy to the edge of collapse.
The number of people desperately looking for any help is increasing in Kabul, a city of six million people which includes a large number of internally displaced families, as well as other cities. In front of every bakery across the capital, a dozen women and children can be seen sitting and asking visitors to buy them a piece of bread. Children as young as six-years-old roam the streets in the evening, selling plastic bags to help their families buy their next meal or pay rent.
Unemployment in Afghanistan is at a record high as government employees were forced out of their jobs due to a shortage of government budget and the closure of many private businesses.
Economic expert Osman Hamim says that with construction work largely stalled and the development sector almost not functioning, people's income has dropped significantly, with many of them completely losing their income.
"The construction industry employed a lot of Afghans and helped suppliers earn a profit," Hamim told The New Arab. "A considerable amount of these people don't have any work now, thus, they aren't able to support their families."
With prices skyrocketing partly because of the restrictions on imports and exports, the purchase power of laymen is affected even more.
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan last August, there was hope that the country would finally be at peace after decades of war.
"One thing that makes this year's Ramadan different, in a good way, is the fact that hundreds of Afghans are not killed in conflict every day," Dr Suhaib Raufi, chairman of the Kabul-based Centre for Strategic and Regional Studies, told The New Arab.
But that overall sense of security has been overshadowed by a wave of problems that have hit the country and its people. The Taliban’s actions have fallen severely short of the promises made to the Afghan people.
"In terms of social and political achievements, the Taliban failed to act on some major promises, such as forming an inclusive and representative government, allowing girls to go back to schools, and fully implementing the amnesty," Dr Raufi said.
"But that overall sense of security has been overshadowed by a wave of problems that have hit the country and its people. The Taliban’s actions have fallen severely short of the promises made to the Afghan people"
"These flaws, together with strict rules towards the social and even personal life of the people might have affected the international community’s plans to recognize the Taliban government, as well as harm its popularity inside the country."
Despite the early announcement of “general amnesty” to all previous government and security staff, there are still flaws in implementation of the pardon. In January, a UN report found that more than 100 former members of the Afghan government, security forces and those who worked with international military forces in Afghanistan have been killed extrajudicially since the Taliban took over the country at the end of the summer last year.
Now, it's been more than 200 days that older girls in grades seven to 12 are not permitted to return to school. The Taliban had repeatedly promised to open all schools on March 23 after the winter break but on the first day of the new school year, just hours after schools reopened, girls in higher grades were told to return home and wait until further notice.
The Taliban have yet to provide an explanation to the public about how the decision was made and when schools will reopen, if at all. Restrictive policies towards women's right to work and education are pushing women out of the public sphere—increasing anxiety about the motivations behind these policies, particularly in the country’s major urban centres where women have enjoyed access to public spaces.
These new policies and decrees have raised concerns that the Taliban are moving backward to their authoritarian style governance of the late 1990s and what the implications will be for the country’s economy and international relations.
Many families who initially decided to stay in the country are now understandably changing their minds as they are worried for the future of their children, particularly girls. A further wave of outward migration of intellectuals and professionals could further debilitate an already vulnerable economic system.
Modaser Islami is an Afghan journalist and writer.
Follow him on Twitter: @mmodaser