By Carlo Cauti *
Last Wednesday the Taliban announced their new government, which will administer the Afghanistan reconquered by Islamic integralist students.
The world was shocked to learn that the Interior Minister is a terrorist with an arrest warrant issued by the FBI, who offered a reward of $10 million (about R$55 million) to anyone who captured him. Or that the prime minister is on the United Nations’ wanted list. Or that two prisoners at Guantanamo prison are going to be ministers.
What few people are looking at is the quality of men (since there are no women in the new Executive) who will lead Afghanistan’s economy.
The country is on the verge of plunging into an unprecedented economic and liquidity crisis capable of causing a gigantic humanitarian crisis.
For days, ATMs have been operating intermittently. Local credit institutions are on the brink of bankruptcy. The Afghan currency, already at an all-time low, is in frank hyper-devaluation, while inflation (especially in food prices) is at record levels.
Afghanistan’s physical money supply is being compromised as the central bank has stopped printing its own currency.
That is why it is necessary to act immediately.
If Afghanistan were a “normal” country, the government’s priority would be a plan to kick-start the economy.
But at best, the new authorities in charge of presiding over the Central Bank, or leading the main economic ministries, are distinguished strangers or religious authorities. Without any technical or economic preparation.
For example, Mohammad Idris, the new governor of the Afghan Central Bank. The man who will have to invent an emergency monetary policy. But whose curriculum leaves them very perplexed. His most prestigious position came when he was appointed head of the Taliban Economic Commission. A kind of super minister of finance who took care of the illegal activities used to finance the extremist group. Among them, extortion imposed on the population of territories that the Taliban conquered, or the smuggling of minerals and other goods.
“Idris will address the growing problems of the banking sector and the population,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed at the time of the government’s presentation.
But it is one thing to deal with the illegal flow of money to the guerrillas, another to develop a monetary and financial policy capable of overcoming mistrust abroad and saving a country on the brink of disaster.
Another problematic figure is the new Economy Minister. Though best known, Din Mohammad, 61, is a political expert on religious issues, not an economist.
A former member of the Taliban Supreme Council, he was part of the team that negotiated the withdrawal of the Americans from Afghanistan in Qatar.
In the first Taliban government (1996-2001), Mohammad was minister of planning and higher education.
It is said of him that at the age of 15 he already knew the Koran by heart. And who, fleeing to Pakistan during the war, continued the process of Dars-i Nizami, the religious study in Islamic schools, the madrassas. Which doesn’t include studying economics.
Even less is known about Mullah Hidayatullah Badri, the current finance minister. Except he’s also religious. And who never studied economics.
In short, those responsible for the economic portfolios of the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan do not seem to have the sufficient track record to convince the Americans to unfreeze the $10 billion in reserves of the Afghan central bank.
On the other hand, the Taliban is still under international sanctions. And no country seems to want to take risky decisions. For now, not even China.
In this gap created between the fall of the old government, recognized by the international community, and the arrival of the Taliban, there are millions of public salaries to be paid.
Even before Islamic extremists came to power, more than half of the country’s population depended on humanitarian aid.
Considering that foreign aid represented 3/4 of government spending, and that, according to the UN, a very serious food crisis is getting closer, the Taliban no longer knows what to do.
What they would most need is knowledge to overcome foreigners’ distrust. And that is why, even more than the capital flight, which has already been exhausted, the new Taliban government is much more afraid of another drain, that of brains. Without them, bankruptcy again Emirate seems inevitable.
*Carlo Cauti is multimedia editor at EXAME Invest.
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