Taliban forces block roads around the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 27, 2021.

Limon | Reuters

One month after the fall of its US-backed government to the Taliban, Afghanistan faces crises of astronomical magnitude: millions at risk of starvation, nationwide cash shortage , the suspension of aid and the freezing of assets by international donors and the fear of brutal human rights violations.

Western policymakers are debating whether to engage with Afghanistan’s new government made up of die-hard Islamist extremists – which includes wanted terrorists – as the country nears economic collapse.

Before the Taliban takeover, 80% of the Afghan government budget was funded by the United States and other Western donors. Forty percent of its GDP came from international aid. About half of the country lived below the poverty line.

Of its 40 million inhabitants, 14 million in Afghanistan are food insecure. The UN World Food Program says $ 200 million is needed to support its operations in the country until the end of this year.

Taliban leaders have already set policies regarding aid agency access to the country. This would be overseen by an authority called the Commission for the Arrangement and Control of Businesses and Organizations, which deals with both businesses and aid organizations.

“This commission will oversee the registration of all aid agencies and enforce the Taliban code of conduct for these organizations, which includes aspects such as taxation, political neutrality (ensuring that aid workers are not spies) and respect for Afghan culture, ”said Amer. Alhusein, financial advisor in the Middle East and Central Asia for the Plant for Peace post-conflict development initiative.

“Important to engage with the Taliban”

Earlier this week, international donors at a United Nations conference in Geneva, including the United States and European states, pledged more than $ 1 billion in aid to war-ravaged Afghanistan . UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said “the Afghan people are facing the collapse of an entire country all at once”.

He warned that food supplies in the country could run out by the end of September and stressed that engagement with the Taliban government would be necessary.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres makes a gesture during an interview with Reuters at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York, September 15, 2021.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

“It is impossible to provide humanitarian aid inside Afghanistan without engaging with the de facto authorities,” Guterres told reporters.

But it presents a new dilemma for donors, amid fears of widespread and violent human rights violations by the Taliban, infamous for their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, and concerns about new opportunities for justice. corruption and misuse of donation funds.

This potential for corruption is “a huge risk,” said Alex Zerden, deputy senior researcher at the Center for New American Security and former Treasury Department financial attaché at the US embassy in Kabul.

Families arriving from Afghanistan are seen in their makeshift tents as they take refuge near a train station in Chaman, Pakistan, September 1, 2021.

Saïd Ali Achakzai | Reuters

“The Taliban control customs, they control taxation. They were in the business of extortion a month ago, I don’t think they are going to change,” he told CNBC on Wednesday by telephone. A quarter of the country’s banks are state-owned, as is the central bank, which means these vehicles for moving money across the country are now all under the control of the Taliban. Anyone who does business with these banks is then also exposed to the risk of US sanctions.

And while humanitarian organizations may choose to deploy their funds through independent institutions on the ground, these “may not have the absorptive capacity to responsibly transfer or use a huge influx of funds.” Zerden said.

A new form of corruption?

Corruption in Afghanistan is anything but new. The billions poured into the country over the past two decades, particularly from the United States, have fueled a class of millionaire entrepreneurs, Afghan politicians and warlords whose corruption has crippled the country and pushed many into the arms. the Taliban, who have pledged to get rid of such behavior.

But the Taliban have hitherto financed themselves through the opium trade, extortion and illicit mining activities in the country. The group’s annual revenues have reached the hundreds of millions, which have funded their insurgency over the years, but are well below the more than $ 5 billion required each year to fund the Afghan government.

People carry the national flag during an Afghan Independence Day protest in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 19, 2021.

Limon | Reuters

Instead of being eradicated, corruption can simply take on another flavor, Alhusain said.

“Given the lack of resources combined with the Taliban’s urgent need to stabilize the country and win the loyalty of local tribal leaders, I believe that a new form of corruption – similar in nature to what the country has suffered during the Last 20 years, but different in terms of recipients and distribution – is bound to emerge, ”he said.

But donors have certain mechanisms that can go some way to preventing the misuse of funds. One delivers food, medicine and other essentials rather than cash, which states like Qatar, China, Iran and Pakistan have done or are committed to doing so far. ‘now.

Another works through the UN as opposed to the Afghan central bank, or uses private banks to deploy capital instead of state banks, Zerden said.

US aid continues, but not by the Taliban

The United States will continue to provide aid to the Afghans, but not through the Taliban and despite its own sanctions against the group, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week.

“The US Treasury Department has issued specific licenses to allow US government agencies, contractors and grant recipients to continue providing essential and life-saving humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, despite sanctions against the Taliban,” he said. he said in a statement. “In accordance with our sanctions, this aid will not come through the government, but rather through independent organizations.”

The World Food Program also told CNBC in a statement: “We have put in place robust surveillance systems, guided by global surveillance standards, and we are carrying out routine surveillance activities to ensure accountability and improve quality. of our programs. ”

It says it is “100% focused on helping local communities” and has a network of local partners that allows it to do its job.

Despite the control mechanisms attached to aid funds, however, “foreign and humanitarian aid given to states will fall into the wrong hands,” warned Andreas Krieg, associate professor at King’s College London. “Under the [previous Ashraf] government of Ghani, much of these funds were expropriated to finance a kleptocratic regime. ”

“In developing countries, funds are usually embezzled by regimes. The Taliban is just another such regime, “Krieg said, adding,” The answer is not ‘no foreign aid’ as that would undermine any effort to rule over and moderate the Taliban. “


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