By Kathy Gannon, Rahim Faiez and Edith M. Lederer | Associated Press
KABUL, Afghanistan – United Nations food stocks in Afghanistan could run out this month, a senior official warned on Wednesday, threatening to add a hunger crisis to the challenges facing the country’s new Taliban leadership at the time. that they are trying to restore stability after decades of war.
About a third of the country’s 38 million people do not know whether they will eat a meal every day, according to Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN humanitarian official in Afghanistan.
The UN World Food Program has brought food and distributed it to tens of thousands of people in recent weeks, but with winter and the ongoing drought approaching, at least 200 million dollars are urgently needed to be able to continue feeding the most vulnerable Afghans, he said.
“By the end of September, World Food Program stocks in the country will be exhausted,” Alakbarov told reporters at a virtual press conference. “We will not be able to provide these essential food items because we will be out of stock. ”
Earlier, UN officials said that of the $ 1.3 billion needed for all aid efforts, only 39 percent had been received.
The Taliban, who took control of the country before US forces pulled out this week, must now rule a nation heavily dependent on international aid and facing a deepening economic crisis. In addition to concerns about the food supply, officials have not been paid for months and the local currency is losing value. Most of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are held abroad and currently frozen.
Khalid Payenda, the former acting finance minister of Afghanistan, detailed on Wednesday a country existing in a dangerously fragile state.
Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, Payenda said the Afghan currency had not yet crashed because the money exchanges had been shut down. But its value could drop by more than 100%, said Payenda, who described former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as withdrawn and paranoid before the Taliban takeover.
“I think the war had an impact on his psyche and he viewed it all with suspicion,” Payenda said.
Some of the chaos reflects the speed at which the Taliban took control of the country, with Payenda saying he believed the previous government could have been maintained for two or three more years due to commitments from international donors.
“I didn’t expect it to be so quickly,” Payenda said. “Nobody really did it.”
Mohammad Sharif, a trader in the capital Kabul, said shops and markets there are stocked, but a major concern is rising food prices.
“If the situation continues like this and there is no government to control the prices, it will cause so many problems for the local population,” he said.
In the wake of the US withdrawal, many Afghans are anxiously awaiting how the Taliban will rule. When in power, before being driven out by the US-led invasion in 2001, they imposed drastic restrictions, denying girls to school, largely confining women to homes. them and banning television, music and even photography.
But more recently, their leaders have sought to project a more moderate image. Schools have reopened to boys and girls, although Taliban officials said they would study separately. Women are on the streets wearing Islamic headscarves – as they always have – rather than the full burqa that the Taliban demanded in the past.
The challenges the Taliban face in reviving the economy could give Western countries leverage as they push the group to deliver on its promise to form an inclusive government and secure women’s rights. The Taliban say they want to have good relations with other countries, including the United States.
Many Afghans fear that the Taliban will not keep their commitments and fear that the country’s economic situation will offer them few opportunities. Tens of thousands of people have sought to flee the country following a heartbreaking airlift.
But thousands of people who had worked with the United States and its allies, as well as up to 200 Americans, remained in the country after efforts ended with the last American troops who left Kabul International Airport shortly. before midnight Monday.
President Joe Biden then defended his handling of the chaotic withdrawal and evacuation efforts, which saw spasms of violence, including a suicide bombing last week that killed 13 U.S. servicemen and 169 Afghans. He said it was inevitable that the final departure of two decades of war would be difficult.
He said he remains committed to ensuring that Americans are left behind if they so choose. The Taliban have said they will allow people with legal documents to travel freely, but it remains to be seen whether commercial airlines will be willing to offer services.
Bilal Karimi, an official member of the Taliban spokesman’s office, said on Wednesday that a team of Turkish and Qatari technicians had arrived in Kabul to help restore the airport to working order. Alakbarov, the United Nations humanitarian official, said the United Nations is requesting access to the airport so that it can deliver food and other supplies directly to the capital.
The Taliban also faces the threat from the Islamic State group, which is much more radical and claimed responsibility for the bombing at the airport. The Taliban have vowed they will not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for attacks on other countries – a key US demand since the militants once harbored al-Qaida leaders who orchestrated the September 11 attacks.
In the aftermath of last week’s bombing, U.S. officials said the drone strikes were targeting the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, and Biden vowed to continue the airstrikes.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Wednesday it was “possible” the United States will have to coordinate with the Taliban on any counterterrorism strike in Afghanistan in the future. .
Faiez reported from Istanbul and Lederer from the United Nations. Associated Press editors Tameem Akhgar in Istanbul and Lolita C. Baldor and Josh Boak in Washington contributed.