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Taliban and Pauperization

Pauperization (noun): the process of making a person or group very poor   (Oxford Languages)

This is the second time that the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan, and not surprisingly, its people are once again facing an economic collapse, poor harvests, and famine-like conditions across the country. The statistics are almost numbing in their gruesomeness: a staggering 98 percent of the population is suffering from food shortage; while emergency levels of acute malnutrition are ravaging 25 out of 34 provinces, “with almost half of children under five, and a quarter of pregnant and breastfeeding women needing life-saving nutrition support in the next 12 months,” according to recent World Food Programme (WFP) statistics.   

To make the situation even worse, on December 24, the Taliban banned women from working for local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), causing the suspension of operations of four major international relief organizations. The effect of such a move would be catastrophic; when the United Nations estimates that 20 million Afghans are already facing acute hunger.  

Beside the regime’s pariah status on the world stage, their social and political policies are directly causing pauperization. For example, perhaps their most important social and political agenda, by which the Taliban measure the purity of their Islamic system, is making women socially invisible. They accomplish this irrational and sadistic task by denying women the rights to education and work. As of December 24, the Taliban has forbidden girls and women from all educational opportunities above grade 6. As well, the Taliban has systematically closed off work opportunities for women and ordered them not to leave their homes without a male chaperone. 

The effect is to make it impossible for the millions of women-led households to earn a living or even buy food in the market; nearly all female-led households suffer from food scarcity. Not only have the Taliban closed women’s public bathhouses, banned women from parks, and shuttered some shops and cafes that used to serve mixed gender, but they have also imposed onerous restrictions on women business owners, including that they can’t interact with men. Even by the end of 2021, the Taliban’s war on women was costing the Afghan economy an estimated loss of one billion dollars a year.   

Moreover, the Taliban’s zeal at reimposing their religious dystopia has devastated the incomes of many small businesses and workers. For instance, their ban on music means an entire industry – from musicians and party venues to those who produce musical instruments or teach – has been outlawed. It isn’t the only business sector to suffer: there are reports the Taliban have mauled hairdressers for shaving beards and styling hair. Tens of thousands of businesses have been similarly affected due to intrusive Taliban edicts governing virtually every aspect of business.  

On top of those stresses is the new Taliban system of taxation, which can be best described as extortion on a national scale. The Taliban are expert money collectors. When insurgents, their taxation system was praised for its efficiency, by even the Economist. But now that they are in power, the methods that made the Taliban one of the richest insurgent groups in the world, is grinding the people of Afghanistan into paupers. The Taliban are crushing low-income populations by way of zakat and other taxes, while not providing no services to society. 

Already over-stretched social services are crumbling under the Taliban, which is more focused on building mosques and imposing “prayer tests” on the populace. In addition to the “official” Taliban system of taxation, their gunmen also demand money or goods through the threat of violence and intimidation.   

If that weren’t enough, tens of thousands of families are being kicked off their lands. Since taking over the country, the Taliban have displaced tens of thousands of families and confiscated their lands in provinces across the country. Land has always been central to the Taliban’s way of ruling. Between 1996 to 2000, the Taliban issued around 15 decrees governing land and property management. Their main objective was to nullify the partial land redistribution of the 1970s and 1980s, when lands of some feudal lords were distributed among the farmers and those working on the lands. The rich and powerful used the Taliban’s version of sharia to regain ownership of their lost properties in the courts. While some poor farmers lost everything, others were forced to purchase their lands, which they had developed for decades, from those rich and powerful allies of the Taliban.   

That same policy is again being implemented across Afghanistan, as feudal landowners successfully press their cases in Taliban courts. In addition, Taliban municipalities are zealously demanding the return of anything they believe may have once been government property. And again, the victims are the poorest living in urban slums or rural villages. The Taliban policy of restoring state and feudal lords’ private property is a major weapon of pauperization.  

The result of all these policies introduced and enforced by the Taliban is an economy in freefall. A year ago, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimated that Afghanistan’s nominal GDP could shrink by 20 percent in a year. Given that many of the Taliban’s harsh measures were only introduced in 2022, the GDP data is most likely only to worsen.   

It is God’s duty to provide food, stated Taliban prime minister Mullah Hassan Akhund. As long as the Taliban are in power, there is no hope for a better future for 98 percent of Afghanistan’s population as the regime continues to suppress, extort, displace, and confiscate not only the lands and homes of the poor, but also their ability to feed themselves. But the desperation of an entire population can prove to be more powerful than even the harshest measures of repression, as the Taliban may discover.