Afghan businessman Shoaib Barak is struggling to pay his workers and suppliers, unable to access funds from a banking system crippled by the freezing of the nation’s overseas assets.
They, in turn, can’t pay their bills — and so the country’s economic woes trickle down and hurt everyone along an unbroken chain of misery.
“I feel very ashamed,” said Barak, who until recently employed some 200 people across the country — mostly in his construction business.
“For me, for every Afghan, it’s really disgusting. I do not even have the ability to pay salaries for my staff.”To avoid giving the Taliban access to Afghanistan’s reserves, Washington froze an estimated $10 billion held by the central bank abroad after the hardline group seized power on August 15.
Equating to around half what the country’s economy produced last year, that move in turn starved banks used by Afghan businesses and citizens of access to dollars.
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Even if limited funds were released, the bulk could be tied up in the American legal system for years while subject to claims by victims of the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks on the US.
Ordinarily, the reserves could be dipped into to pay overdue government bills and development projects, but the freeze has trickled down to the rest of the economy.
“Just release the reserves,” Barak pleaded.
“If you have a problem with […] the Taliban, don’t take revenge on the nation, the people.”
In this picture taken on December 18, Afghan businessman Shoaib Barak (C) shakes hands with one of his workers at his office in Kabul. — AFP
Barak’s cash flow crisis illustrates the problems faced by tens of thousands of Afghans who simply can’t access most of their money.
He says he has around $3 million tied up in Afghan banks — money earned over the years from lucrative private and government contracts, which were paid in dollars as aid poured into the public purse under the pre-Taliban regime.
But with local banks limiting weekly withdrawals to five per cent of a business account’s balance — up to a maximum of $5,000 — Barak is months behind on both invoices and salaries to his staff.
Ahmad Zia is one of them.