In Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, everyone, from journalists to ex-soldiers, are now street vendors

Until a few months ago, they were soldiers, officers, and media workers, and small businessmen and women--all serving and earning in places that somewhat, if not entirely, suited their skills

Shraddha Nand Bhatnagar Nov 10, 2021
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Street vendors selling things in Afghanistan

Until a few months ago, they were soldiers, officers, and media workers, and small businessmen and women--all serving and earning in places that somewhat, if not entirely, suited their skills. Today, almost all of them, who are still in the country, are left with very few options. Most have chosen to become street vendors, selling things--from fruits, vegetables to second-hand items-- in Afghanistan's cities just to earn their survival. 

The Afghans, probably, are the most desperate people in the world currently. The army and security forces, they once served in, no longer exist. The government they had been fighting for is gone. Powerful countries that once promised them democracy and development abandoned them. Many government officials were removed from their jobs by the Taliban. Those retained are unpaid for months.     

The Taliban, now their new rulers, toppled the US-backed Afghan government on 15 August, almost three months ago. In response, the international community withheld development aid and denied the new rulers access to national reserves. The economy collapsed as businesses struggle to find cash. 

During the last 15 years, Hasib Yousif had worked with the country’s leading media houses, reporting the stories highlighting the people’s problems, sufferings. Today, he became a story himself--a situation not really appreciated by the industry.

TOLOnews, the country’s leading media house, recently published a story about how Yousuf is now selling fruits on the streets of Kabul amid widespread unemployment as the country's private media industry, like others, has almost collapsed. 

Yousuf is not a unique or isolated character. He is among thousands of Afghan professionals who are now being forced to take the streets just to earn for their survival. Cities are full of people selling their household items, for a few bucks of cash, now a rare commodity in the country. Cash, medicine, food to fuel--every basic thing needed for human survival-- are in short supply. 

Such is the level of desperation that people are selling their carpets and blankets--things Afghans value most to survive harsh winter, which is already there--and, in some cases their children. All these just to get some hard cash. In the current situation, if they fight hunger, they doubt they would be able to survive winter.

“We are on a countdown to catastrophe,” David Beasley, the executive director of the World Food Programme’s executive director David Beasley said recently in a stark, but clear, warning to the international community. 

“Afghanistan is now among the world’s worst humanitarian crises – if not the worst – and food security has all but collapsed,” he said in a recent report, adding, “This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation,” 

However, those responsible for the present situation appear to have differing priorities. On 16 August, the Taliban announced the end of the war but, at the same time, forced the people to fight a different battle in the form of hunger and almost universal unemployment. The group failed to form an inclusive government which denied them international recognition. 

The United States and the West that once sold the dreams of democracy and human rights and invaded their country are today failing to understand the gravity of the situation. Their collective priorities, for now, it appears, are misplaced when they negotiate with the new Afghan rulers. 

And, the Taliban, who consider themselves the divine rulers of the country, are yet come out of their victorious mood of defeating the world's most powerful and richest nation. In the end, the ultimate price as always is being paid by common Afghans - in the forms of hunger, starvation, and death.

Obaidullah Baheer, a lecturer in the American University of Afghanistan, summed up the feelings of Afghans in a tweet. He wrote, beneath the photo of a large graveyard, "Somedays in Afghanistan, I wonder, who is more fortunate, the dead or the living."  

(The writer is Research Associate, Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi)