The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kabul residents are running out of cash and struggling with rising prices

Afghans gather outside a bank in Kabul on Aug. 25, 2021. (Akhter Gulfam/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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Afghans are struggling to find cash to buy basic goods that are getting more expensive as the country faces a cash squeeze more than a week into the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.

The Islamist militants — who have seen many key sources of national income choked off — have now banned people from moving dollars out of Afghanistan. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, declared on Tuesday that they would stop Afghans carrying dollars out “by air or land” and seize the bills.

Many ATMs are empty in the capital, and people have had to wait hours to take out money in recent days. Some Kabul residents told The Washington Post that they could find only a single open ATM on Wednesday morning.

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“People are running out of cash, and everyone is waiting for banks to reopen,” one doctor in the capital said on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

On the Wednesday morning, after the Taliban ordered banks to reopen for the first time since the group’s resurgence in mid-August, residents said most bank doors remained closed. Long lines formed outside some banks, but it was unclear whether any actually opened their doors or whether only access to ATMs was involved.

“We have not received reports of opening of the banks, but everything will be normal soon to end people worries,” Bilal Karimi, an aide to Taliban spokesman Mujahid, said earlier from Kabul.

But rising prices, shuttered businesses and the scramble for cash have heightened uncertainty in the city. The local currency has tumbled since the Taliban staged its rapid advance amid the U.S. military withdrawal.

Another resident, watching from home as the prices of basic goods like flour and rice climb, said she was worried. “We need a daily routine to be revived soon; otherwise, there will be more-serious concerns.”

Afghanistan was already one of the poorest countries in the world and relied heavily on foreign aid, which the World Bank estimated last year made up about 43 percent of an economy battered by decades of conflict. That aid is now in jeopardy.

Kabul-based economist Muhammad Dawood Niazi said the future also hinges on how the Taliban will run the country this time around. He warned that prolonged uncertainty could push the economy into free fall, and more people into poverty.

“This unexpected change of government has put everything at standstill in Afghanistan … business, trade and other economic activities,” he said. “People are suffering the most.”

“God forbid, if a government is announced that is not acceptable to the world. … Then the worst economic scenario is feared, which may push more people into poverty,” he warned, as the international community awaits the result of Taliban discussions to form a new government.

A new round of Western sanctions, a possibility that British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has raised, would further damage the economy.

Out of concern about the impact of the Taliban comeback, the World Bank halted funding on Wednesday for projects in Afghanistan — up to 30 percent of the country’s civilian budget.

The Biden administration has also cut off access to the billions of dollars of Afghan central bank reserves held in U.S. bank accounts. Wire transfer services including Western Union have also paused operations, impacting the vital flow of money from Afghans abroad.

Taliban militants have reportedly called on some male employees at Afghanistan’s Finance Ministry and central bank to get back to work this week, as a wave of displacement inside the country grows. Tens of thousands of people have also left the country on U.S. evacuation flights.

Mujahid, the spokesman, expressed concern Tuesday that the skilled people leaving were needed for the economy.

“We need their expertise,” he said.

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