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Life beneath the Taliban: ‘what issues is that we’re hungry’

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For Nurzia Rashid and her husband Rahatullah Qalandari, nervousness about Afghanistan’s Taliban regime is overshadowed by extra rapid considerations: the place to seek out the following meal for his or her six youngsters.

Rashid and Qalandari, who labored as a nanny and safety guard respectively at authorities ministries within the capital Kabul earlier than the Taliban retook energy final 12 months, are unemployed. The household have reduce on meals, bought jewelry and rely on the charity of assist teams and neighbours.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether or not the Taliban’s return was an excellent factor or dangerous factor,” mentioned Rashid, who doesn’t assist the Islamist group’s ultraconservative worldview. “What issues is that we’re hungry.”

Life for Afghanistan’s 40mn folks has modified dramatically because the withdrawal of Nato troops and the victory of the Sunni militants one 12 months in the past, with a dramatic financial collapse leaving many Afghans a lot poorer and hungrier.

“I’m very fearful about this subsequent winter,” mentioned Hsiao-Wei Lee, the UN World Meals Programme’s deputy director for Afghanistan. The nation was in pressing want of meals assist in addition to a wider programme of funding, she mentioned: “We’d like the economic system to breathe . . . in order that [Afghans] aren’t in the identical place as they’re now.”

The Taliban’s return has been skilled very in a different way throughout areas, ethnic teams and genders. For some, the relative calm after the Islamists’ 20-year insurgency is a welcome alternative to rebuild lives. Others dwell in concern of persecution or have misplaced hard-won freedoms corresponding to the suitable to training for teenage ladies.

Rahatullah Qalandari and his wife Nurzia Rashid depend on the charity of aid groups and neighbours after losing their jobs at ministries when the Taliban took power last year
Rahatullah Qalandari and his spouse Nurzia Rashid rely on the charity of assist teams and neighbours after shedding their jobs at ministries when the Taliban took energy final 12 months © Oriane Zerah/FT

The Taliban dominated Afghanistan within the Nineteen Nineties earlier than a US-led alliance invaded and ousted the regime in 2001, triggering their lengthy marketing campaign to reclaim energy. Whereas the collapse of the western-backed authorities final 12 months curtailed the livelihoods of individuals corresponding to Rashid and Qalandari in a single day, some Afghans have welcomed the Taliban’s crackdown on corruption.

The preventing pressured Haji Hamayon to flee his village in central Wardak province greater than a decade in the past, relocating to the outskirts of Kabul. The 56-year-old dealer mentioned the Taliban had tackled the bribe-taking that plagued his client imports enterprise.

Like most Taliban, he’s additionally from the nation’s massive Pashtun ethnic group and shares components of the Islamists’ beliefs. His 4 wives and their daughters don’t work and cover their faces in public.

“I’m so comfortable that I don’t even care whether or not I eat or not,” he mentioned. “I like the Taliban as a result of all these warlords, oppressors and murderers have gone.”

Haji Hamayon, 56, is a businessman living in Kabul
Businessman Haji Hamayon: beneath the Taliban ‘all these warlords, oppressors and murderers have gone’ © Oriane Zerah/FT

After the Taliban’s conquest, western powers tried to isolate the regime by imposing sanctions, seizing Afghanistan’s $9bn in overseas forex reserves and chopping off the help that made up 75 per cent of the earlier authorities’s funds.

Critics argue that this has solely harm extraordinary Afghans whereas doing little to rein within the Taliban. The UN Growth Programme estimated that gross home product fell 20 per cent in 2021 and can shrink an additional 5 per cent this 12 months. It estimates that acute food insecurity impacts practically 20mn folks.

Column chart of Annual % change in GDP showing Afghanistan’s economy has been in freefall since the Taliban takeover

As poverty ranges have elevated, Taliban leaders have set about remaking Afghan society in response to their strict interpretation of Islamic regulation, imposing draconian restrictions, ordering girls to cowl their faces and barring teenage ladies from college.

The regime has been a catastrophe for Khatera and her 16-year-old daughter Hasanat. Khatera, 35, misplaced her educating job at a Kabul college and Hasanat has not been in a classroom since final August.

“Earlier than Hasanat was pleasant, she was going out so much, she was very open. Now she stays at dwelling, has misplaced weight and will get complications,” Khatera mentioned. “We’re OK with carrying a niqab [a veil that leaves the eyes uncovered]. However they should permit us again to varsities and workplaces.”

The Taliban has repeatedly mentioned since final August that it plans to reopen ladies’ secondary colleges and is getting ready a brand new curriculum. However the delay has led many to concern they may repeat their Nineteen Nineties coverage of a scientific ban on ladies’ training.

Women wearing burqas walk in Kabul with their children
Afghan households in Kabul: the Taliban has ordered girls to cowl their faces in public © Oriane Zerah/FT

Rights teams additionally accuse the regime of reviving the brutality that characterised their insurgency and former rule. Whereas the Taliban final 12 months introduced an amnesty for members of the previous authorities and armed forces, worldwide displays have alleged a number of violations.

The UN alleged in a report final month that the Taliban carried out not less than 160 extrajudicial killings, practically 200 arbitrary arrests and tortured dozens of former navy and authorities officers between final August and June.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, dismissed the allegations as propaganda. Anybody who “kills or arrests arbitrarily . . . will face sharia regulation”, he wrote on Twitter.

Terror assaults have killed round 700 civilians and wounded 1,400 between August and June, mentioned the UN. These are totally on the Hazara ethnic minority, attributable to the native affiliate of Isis, the Taliban’s Islamist rivals. The Taliban, who beforehand persecuted the Shia Muslims as heretics, say it’s now their responsibility to guard minorities however many Hazara are deeply distrustful of the group. 

A children’s balloon vendor in north Kabul
A youngsters’s balloon vendor struggles for gross sales in north Kabul © Oriane Zerah/FT

“There was discrimination beneath the earlier regime, however now it’s extra open,” mentioned one 25-year-old Hazara man in Kabul.

For many Afghans, making ends meet stays the largest problem. Rajab Ali Yousefi, a 35-year-old shopkeeper in Kabul, mentioned gross sales of staple meals had halved, forcing him into debt to maintain paying his lease. “Enterprise goes down and down,” he mentioned. “The individuals who used to purchase a bag of one thing will now purchase half of it.”

Whereas humanitarian help has helped to stave off mass hunger, assist businesses concern weak Afghans might be unable to resist additional financial shocks.

“You’ll be able to spend all day trying, and there gained’t be any work,” Qalandari mentioned. “All the pieces has collapsed and now we’re begging only for bread.”

Further reporting by Fazelminallah Qazizai

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