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The Taliban’s excuse for not paying pensions: They are unIslamic

Pensioners in Afghanistan tell Zan Times that they have exhausted their savings, are living in poverty, and have no idea how they will survive. And they have a similar reason: the Taliban aren’t paying their pensions.  

Two years ago, the Taliban stopped paying a schoolteacher in Kandahar who had retired in 2020 after 30 years on the job. Since then, he and his wife, Zainab*, have exhausted their savings. They borrowed around 400,000 afghani for his needed heart surgery. Unable to pay their debt, Zainab recounts that her ailing 61-year-old husband travelled 12 hours to Kabul about three months ago to personally plead for the resumption of his pension at the Taliban Ministry of Finance.  

“They told him, “You are a wise person and you understand better that this money is haram and there is no such thing as a pension in Islam. This time, because you are an old man, I will not tell you anything, otherwise I should have subjected you to the worst curses. Don’t consult us again,’” Zainab tells Zan Times.  

According to the figures of Afghanistan Pensioner Association, there are currently nearly 170,000 pensioners in Afghanistan. As far as Zan Times can establish, an untold number of retirees are being denied their pensions by the Taliban. For this report, we interviewed 17 people – eight women and nine men – in four provinces. They all say that the Taliban have stopped paying their pensions and won’t resume those payments. And when pensioners summon the courage to ask the Taliban as to why their pensions were stopped, the Taliban say that pensions are forbidden and have no place in Islam. 

Mehtab* worked for 40 years in the Department of Information and Culture of Jawzjan province. Now 62, she is in poor health. Her back is bent, her legs tremble and she can hardly walk. She lives in a two-room rented house in Sheberghan city with her only son, daughter-in-law and four children. She holds onto the wall and lifts the corner of the red carpet, showing Zan Times the dampness under the carpet, saying, “We can’t afford to rent another house, this dampness has caused me arthritis.” 

Mehtab explains that she used to enjoy a good life. Then life got steadily harsher. Xix years ago, her husband died in a traffic accident. In August 2021, she was forced to retire when the Taliban regained power. “I tried to support my family by doing crochet weaving, but after a while my fingers couldn’t bear it anymore. It hurt a lot,” she tells Zan Times.  

She says she is entitled to a pension as 200 afghani was deducted each month from her salary for her retirement by the previous government. “They deducted from our meager income that will be useful in our old age, that now they don’t give us,” Mehtab says. She should get 90,000 afghani a year but the Taliban won’t pay. “Until now, I have not protested. Jawzjan is a small province, and the Taliban will quickly find out who has protested and where,” Mehtab explains. Along with other pensioners, she’s visited Taliban offices many times in the past two years to get her pension. “When we went to the Taliban, they did not allow the women to talk, and they told the men that their pensions are in process,” she recounts.  

With Mehtab unable to work, she survives thanks to her son’s tailoring job. Mehtab’s son earns between 200 and 400 afghani a day, of which he must pay 4,000 afghani monthly rent for his shop. “Our economic situation is bad. My only son barely provides food for our family of seven. Before, I used to work, earn a living, and live a good life, but now it’s getting worse day by day and we are not valued as human beings.” Her family’s poverty is visible in the cracked faces and the shabby clothes of her grandchildren. Mehtab, once a proud government employee, is desolate.  

Mehtab is not the only retired woman in dire financial straits because they haven’t received their pensions. Jamila*, a 47-year-old resident of Nimroz province, worked as a school teacher for 17 years in Zaranj city, the capital of Nimroz province. Her diabetes forced her to retire in 2018.  

Her husband was killed 15 years ago in the war with the Taliban. Her two sons, former soldiers of the previous government, are unemployed. “After the Taliban came to power, my sons lost their jobs. No one gives them a job because they were soldiers. They are afraid and don’t go out much,” Jamila tells Zan Times. Even before the Taliban took over, her pension payments were rare. “Since 2018, when I retired, I received 50,000 afghani only once during the previous government,” she recounts. “Every time I went to receive my pension, I was faced with different excuses. Now, the Taliban don’t listen to me at all.” With no income, Jamila and her two sons survive by borrowing money from shopkeepers, telling them that she will repay their debts with her pension money. To date, she owes 600,000 afghani for food bought from two shops in Zaranj city.  

With no money to buy medicine, Jamila’s health is deteriorating. “I have many problems. If this continues, I don’t know how much my illness will progress or how I will be able to afford my living expenses. We really need our pension, especially in the current situation. I hope [the Taliban] will give me my pension,” she says.  

The Taliban won’t say when those pensions will be paid, if ever. Speaking to Zan Times, Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, says that the law on the payment of the pensions is currently under the review of the Taliban supreme leader. “It has been said that some articles that had contradictions with sharia have been removed and some added to it,” he says.  

Retirees can only wait until this law is ratified, exhausting their savings and borrowing what they can to survive. In January 2024, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that more than half of all Afghans live in poverty, with rates particularly high among women. With two-thirds of families experiencing financial troubles as the country’s economy continues to suffer, the OCHA estimates that 23 million people, more than half of Afghanistan’s population, will need humanitarian assistance to survive in 2024.  

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees and writers. Mehtab Safi and Mehsa Elham are the pseudonyms of Zan Times journalists in Afghanistan.