Banking under the Taliban: ‘Out of 150 tickets, only 50 were given to women’

By Arezo

It was August 2021 and provinces were falling one after another into the hands of the Taliban. Nobody could say what would happen in the next hour. Everyone wanted to withdraw their savings from the banks. I was thinking the same. I went to a bank one day before the Taliban’s final takeover of the country. The mass of frustrated people outside the bank’s entrance gate told me there was no chance I could get inside that day. I went to another branch. The situation there was even worse, with a huge crowd of men and women waiting to withdraw their money. I tried another branch but it felt like the entire city had gathered there. There were rumours flying through the crowds that those with U.S. dollar bank accounts could only withdraw US$100 (then worth 8,800 afghanis), and that amount first had to be exchanged into afghanis. Others could withdraw 10,000 afghani.

Before I could return to another line-up in Kabul, the Taliban took over the city. The terror of the Taliban’s presence in the city caused even larger crowds in front of the banks. They were desperate to withdraw their money. The queue was so long that the bank exhausted its money supply before I got near the front of the line.

After that day, the rumours came true – fund withdrawals were limited to 10,000 afghani per week. Even that limited amount was really hard to withdraw as the banks couldn’t keep enough cash in their financial systems. The banks closed. For months, we lived without money from our accounts. The fear of how we could provide food and shelter for our families drove us crazy.

The Taliban reopened the banks three months later. Immediately, I went to a branch of my bank in Dasht-e-Barchi so I could be in line as it reopened. A new timed-entry rule was imposed: bank clients had to obtain a ticket, and then enter the bank at the specified time and date. The tickets were distributed at five o’clock in the morning, regardless of how cold the weather was. Out of 150 tickets that were distributed every day, only 50 were given to women. No matter how urgently one needed money, no client could enter without a ticket.

After several days of lining up in those cold dark mornings, I got a ticket. Others were not so lucky. I noticed a man who, no matter how hard he tried to get one of the 100 tickets given to men every day, never succeeded. It seemed like he really needed the money. He kept begging to be let in the bank, but every time, he was pushed away coldly and harshly. Suddenly, he burst out, “For God’s sake! What is this situation that you have brought on us?” The security guards took him from his collar and beat him with the butts of their guns, then led him into the bank, which immediately closed.

The bank’s security guards had military uniforms and were armed. It was said that they had connections with Taliban police stations. Anyone who dared to protest would be whipped and then taken to those police stations. Rumours flew that protestors were imprisoned for two days.

During the first few days after the banks reopened, women protested its insufficient services. In response, their share of tickets were reduced from 50 a day to 30. No woman protested again after that day. If anyone dared to protest, others would settle her down lest the limited banking services be taken away.

As well, new rules kept being imposed on clients. First, individuals could withdraw up to US$400 or 30,000 afghanis per week from their accounts, up to US$1,200 US dollar or 100,000 afghanis per month. However, banks wouldn’t give more than US$200 or 20,000 afghanis a week.

Then, perhaps after fearful protests by some women, the Taliban announced that those whose salaries were deposited into their bank accounts could withdraw the entire amount at one time. However, this rule was never enacted by the banks.

We, the ordinary people, had to wait in long lines in the dark and cold mornings to get our tickets. But there were different rules for people who had connections with the Taliban. They would bring a letter with them, and, with that letter, they could go into the bank whenever they wanted and also withdraw as much money as they wanted. These people were even allowed to close their bank accounts, something that others weren’t allowed to do.

The bank branch in Dasht-e-Barchi, where I often go to, is larger, and thus more crowded than other branches in Kabul. Many women from Dasht-e-Barchi were working and earning income and now they were coming to the bank to pick up their salaries. That is why there were more women at this branch and the 30 tickets that they distribute each day was not enough. Women have to wait many days and repeatedly return to the bank in order to get a ticket. No official in authority cares about these problems or will to address them. On the other hand, they silence people with more restrictions and fewer services. Ordinary people and their needs are not a priority here.

Translation: F.S. Mohammad