Tens of thousands of Afghan mothers will quite possibly not be able to wave their children off to school in 2022 because their youngsters will have starved to death in a crisis brought about by the US government's decision to freeze $9.5 billion of Afghanistan's reserves held in American banks. That is the harsh reality as Afghanistan's economy spirals out of control with the formal banking system collapsing because there is no cash in the till. Even the most basic services will grind to a halt because there's no money to pay wages or buy food. Washington's decision to unleash a cruel new war on Afghanistan is more Uncle Joe Stalin than the Uncle Joe Biden we were led to expect when he took office earlier this year.
While I'm quite sure that right-wing Western analysts and the largely ignorant chattering classes will blame the ruling Taliban for this dire situation, let us all be in no doubt that this action has all the hallmarks of malice and spite in revenge for America's humiliating military defeat at the hands of the resistance movement. This deliberate retaliation is aimed squarely at the masses of rural Afghans for "not fighting" and the relative ease with which the Taliban took control of the country. The rapid advance and victory of the movement in August could not have been achieved without the will of ordinary Afghans, coupled with the surrender of the demoralised Afghan National Army trained by the US and NATO.
America has never taken kindly to humiliation and dissent overseas. The punishment which it exacted on the Palestinians after the 2006 democratic election involved cruel sanctions and punishing international isolation. The US was outraged when it saw Hamas sweep to a convincing victory over the secular Fatah movement in the Palestinian parliamentary election. American retribution was swift, petulant and brutal. The George W Bush administration assumed — wrongly, it turned out — that Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah would win, but when Hamas was victorious it sought to nullify the results and block a unity government. There were even US plots being considered to overthrow Hamas, and an attempt to stoke a civil war, which led to Hamas taking security as well as political control of Gaza.
Fifteen years and three Israeli wars later, the Palestinians in Gaza are still living under a cruel siege and US-imposed sanctions which have destroyed the economy, wrecked livelihoods and created a humanitarian crisis for the two million living in the enclave.
This does not bode well for ordinary Afghans who are praying that the US will lift its equally cruel sanctions and freezing of assets at the eleventh hour. Judging from the recent statement by Jan Egeland, Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who is currently visiting Afghanistan, the signs are not good. There is now "a race against the clock" to save lives before the harsh winter arrives.
"Afghanistan's economy is spiralling out of control," explained Egeland. "The formal banking system could collapse any day now because of a lack of cash. I've spoken to families who tell me they are surviving on tea and small scraps of old bread. If the economy collapses, even the most basic services will no longer function, and humanitarian needs will soar even higher. Dealing with the liquidity crisis is critical as aid organisations seek to scale up to meet urgent humanitarian needs."
The reality of today's Afghanistan is that hundreds of thousands of displaced Afghans are in desperate need of shelter, warm clothes and food ahead of the winter. Egeland admitted that the situation is so bad that "one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from." He pointed out that his own staff are struggling to withdraw cash to buy food or access savings from banks. "We have been unable to pay staff their full salaries because it has been impossible to get money into the country securely. Imagine this situation multiplied for every employer across the country."
Friends of mine living in the Afghan capital, Kabul, have told me similar stories. One of them queued for six hours only for the cash machine to run out before he reached it. Another stood in line from early morning until dusk before he was able to withdraw some cash, and even then he was limited in the amount that he could get.
UN member states are being urged to act swiftly and broker an agreement to stabilise the economy, fund appropriate public services to pay government wages and create UN trust funds for humanitarian organisations to operate as a stopgap.
While the privileged elite in the major towns and cities of Afghanistan will no doubt get through this latest crisis, there are huge concerns about the 18 million Afghans who already rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Fears for the internally displaced people, who number around 3.5 million (including the 664,000 displaced during fighting since January), are also escalating.
According to the latest World Food Programme telephone surveys, one in three Afghans already suffer from acute hunger. More than 93 per cent of households consumed insufficient food in the past week.
Sadly this crisis seems to have escaped most Western media, which is still reporting stories about the lack of western clothes and the presence of "longer coats" on evidence in Kabul. In Helmand, it appears that the Taliban have banned barbers from trimming beards. Is that really the priority news on the ground, BBC? Or is that what the right-wing agenda insists upon our national broadcaster propagating?
The voices of the rural masses, accounting for 70 per cent of Afghans, are not being listened to because they are not even being heard. If the Americans and other UN states continue to punish them, they will be silenced forever. Dead people can't cry for help any more.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.