Friday , January 27 2023

Taliban prepare new Afghan budget without foreign aid


By SJA Jafri + Bureau Report + Agencies

KABUL/ RIYADH/ ISLAMABAD: Afghanistan’s finance ministry under the new Taliban-led government has prepared a draft national budget that, for the first time in two decades, is funded without foreign aid, a spokesman said.

It comes as the country is mired in economic crisis and faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe the United Nations has called an “avalanche of hunger”.

Finance ministry spokesman Ahmad Wali Haqmal did not disclose the size of the draft budget which runs until December 2022 but told AFP it would go to the cabinet for approval before being published.

“We are trying to finance it from our domestic revenues and we believe we can,” he earlier told state television in an interview shared on Twitter.

Global donors suspended financial aid when the Taliban seized power in August and Western powers also froze access to billions of dollars in assets held abroad.

The 2021 budget, put together by the previous administration under IMF guidance, projected a deficit despite 219 billion Afghanis in aid and grants and 217 billion from domestic revenue.

At that time the exchange rate was around 80 Afghanis to the dollar, but the local currency has been hammered since the Taliban´s return, particularly in the past week, slumping to 130 on Monday before recovering Friday to around 100.

Haqmal accepted that public servants are still owed several months of wages, saying “we are trying our best” to make good on overdue pay by year-end.

He warned, however, a new pay scale had also been prepared.

Earlier, Saudi Arabia sent two aircraft carrying humanitarian aid to Afghanistan Thursday, state media reported, its first such initiative since the Taliban took control of the crisis-stricken country in August.

The Kingdom’s state-run King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) sent more than 65 tonnes of aid, including 1,647 food baskets, the official Saudi Press Agency said.

The centre’s supervisor general, Abdullah al-Rabeeah, said the Saudi humanitarian air bridge would see a total of six planes deliver more than 197 tonnes of aid to Afghanistan.

He said the aid would also be delivered overland on 200 trucks from neighboring Pakistan.

The Gulf Arab countries agreed during a summit in Riyadh on Tuesday to “contribute in mobilizing international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people and to improving their economic conditions”.

More than half of Afghanistan’s 38 million people face “acute” food shortages, according to the United Nations, with the winter forcing millions to choose between emigration and starvation.

The previous Taliban government between 1996 and 2001 imposed a very strict interpretation of Islamic law and harsh public punishments.

Saudi Arabia was one of three nations, including the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, which recognized the previous hardline Taliban regime but, since returning to power in mid-August after overthrowing the US-backed government, the Taliban has tried to show a more moderate face in its quest for international recognition and an end to sanctions.

Despite the lack of recognition for the Taliban government, the United States allowed some exemptions to its sanctions on Afghanistan to enable humanitarian aid to enter.

Meanwhile, a drone strike hit a house just inside Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan, apparently targeting a senior member of the Pakistani Taliban also known as Tehraeek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), but the missile failed to explode, Pakistani Taliban sources said on Friday.

One of the Taliban officials said the drone fired a missile at a hujra, or guesthouse on the compound of Maulvi Faqir Mohammad, a senior leader of the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan movement (TTP).

“It was around 3:30 when a drone suddenly appeared in the sky. We got worried and advised Maulvi Faqir to go to a safe place but he refused and argued it was not possible to hide in the day time,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Around half an hour later, when Faqir Mohammad left his own house to visit the guesthouse, the missile struck.

“He was about 3 meters away from the hujra room when the drone fired a missile and hit the same room. Luckily the missile didn’t explode and he and other people around him remained safe,” he said.

Faqir Mohammad is a former deputy leader of the TTP who spent eight years in Afghanistan’s Bagram prison before being released by the Afghan Taliban following their shock overthrow of the Western-backed government in Kabul on Aug. 15.

The apparent attempt to kill him in a drone strike came after talks to agree over a permanent ceasefire between the TTP and the Pakistani government broke down last week after the militant movement refused to extend a 30-day truce.

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