Along the way, other women quietly join the journey. It will take them three hours to get to the city center. But every day they are driven by agonizing hunger and the need to feed their children.

Their destination is a bakery, one of many in Kabul, where crowds of women have begun to gather late at night, patiently waiting for customers who might give them some bread.

“Sometimes we have dinner, sometimes we don’t,” Rahmati says. “The situation has been bad for three years, but the last year has been the worst. My husband tried to go to Iran to work, but he was deported.”

The United Nations says nearly half of the country faces acute hunger. According to a May report by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), 43% of Afghanistan’s population lives on less than one meal a day, and 90% of Afghans surveyed say food is their primary need.

These are sobering statistics covering the first year of Taliban rule, as the nation became isolated and increasingly impoverished. When the US and its allies left the country, they imposed sanctions, froze $9 billion in central bank funds and cut off foreign aid that once made up nearly 80% of Afghanistan’s annual budget.

Outside the foreign ministry, a large mural, one of the few written in English, trumpets the Taliban government’s official position: “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants positive and peaceful relations with the world.”

However, after a year of rule, the Taliban has yet to be recognized by any country in the world, and international funding is still largely frozen. One of the main problems for Western countries has been the marginalization of minorities and women by the new government, which includes a de facto ban on secondary education for girls.

Repeated promises by the Taliban to allow girls to return to school have not yet been fulfilled. In late June, Supreme Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada backed down from international pressure, saying Afghanistan would make its own rules.

“The fact remains that the United States is trying to find moral justifications for the collective punishment of the Afghan people by freezing assets and imposing sanctions on Afghanistan as a whole,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Kahar Balkhi told CNN. Saturday: “I do not believe that it is necessary to set any conditions for the release of funds that do not belong to me, that did not belong to the previous administration, that did not belong to the previous government. This collective is the money of the people of Afghanistan.”

Amid fears of a full-blown famine last winter, the United States provided more than $1 billion in aid through the World Bank.

“This is an example of an area where we want to continue a pragmatic dialogue with the Taliban,” a senior State Department official told CNN. “We will talk with them about the access of humanitarian aid, about measures that, in our opinion, can increase the macroeconomic stability of the country.”

But a growing number of aid workers and economists say this is not enough and that the continued freeze on Afghanistan’s funds is having a devastating effect.

“This is a message that no one wants to hear,” Vicky Aken, head of the International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan, told CNN. “This policy puts women here at risk. In the name of feminist politics, we see women starving to death.”

The US is not close to recapitalizing Afghanistan’s central bank, according to a senior State Department official. Although there have been discussions on the issue, the official said they remain deeply concerned that assets could be diverted to terrorism.

“We have no confidence that this institution has the safeguards and monitoring for responsible and inclusive asset management. Needless to say, the Taliban’s harboring of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforces the deep concerns we’ve long had about embezzlement. terrorist groups,” they said.

The Taliban refuse to acknowledge that al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a US drone strike earlier this month, was even in the capital, further complicating any efforts to normalize relations with the Taliban.

In the markets of Kabul, stalls are groaning with fresh fruit and produce. The problem, sellers say, is that most people can’t afford them.

“Flour has doubled in price. The price of vegetable oil has more than doubled,” says one of the sellers.

A few yards away, a young boy rummages through a garbage can, collecting plastic waste for resale.

Shakila Rahmati and other women make the three-hour journey from their home on the outskirts of Kabul to the city center.
The Taliban's de facto ban on girls' secondary education remains in place, so none of the coursework at this informal school will contribute to a diploma.

“Humanitarian aid only buys time. It doesn’t grow, it doesn’t increase incomes, it doesn’t create jobs,” says Anthony Cordesman, chairman emeritus for strategy at the bipartisan think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Cordesman warns that Afghanistan’s overall economic decline did not begin with the return of the Taliban to power, nor did it begin with the country’s dependence on foreign aid.

“If we can find ways to negotiate an effective aid process, if we know that the money will go to the people, where it will be widely distributed, where it will not just support the Taliban government, then those are the negotiating initiatives that we need to pursue as much as possible stronger. But to build a web of lies – the equivalent of an aid process based on a house of cards – to take this money that could go to many other countries that could use the aid effectively, makes no sense.”

As the nights in Kabul begin to cool and the days grow shorter, aid workers fear this winter will be even worse than the last.

“It is not in America’s best interest to see the economy collapse,” a senior State Department official said. “We recognize that the humanitarian crisis remains serious and dire.”

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