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Story Publication logo November 8, 2021

Dwindling Aid, Crumbling Economy and ISIS add to Afghans’ Hardships Under Taliban Rule


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Several young Afghans are fighting for their own survival and that of their country as the Americans...

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It's been nearly three months since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the country is in economic and humanitarian free fall. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson was in Kabul during the U.S. withdrawal in August, and has returned to report on the dire situation that has developed since. She joins Judy Woodruff with more.

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Judy Woodruff: It's been nearly three months since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, and the country is in economic and humanitarian freefall. Our Jane Ferguson was there in August. And, with the support of the Pulitzer Center, she's now returned to report on the increasingly dire situation. And Jane joins me now. Jane, it's so good to see you. Tell us. You have been in Afghanistan now for over a week. Give us a sense of just how serious this humanitarian crisis is.

Jane Ferguson: A number of factors, Judy, have come together to make it an absolute economic free fall here. We just returned from Herat, where the drought has meant wheat production has reduced by about a third in the country. Most people here rely on bread as a staple. As a result, hospitals across the country, those that have managed to remain open, are finding malnutrition wards filled with tiny, sick babies, with mothers who can't feed their babies, with many families that are struggling to feed their families at all.

Also, the aid community largely left. I mean, many of the aid organizations are still here, but in a much smaller capacity. People who worked with organizations that were being funded by the international aid community have had their salaries stopped.

Judy Woodruff: And, Jane, in addition to that, there's the issue of terror threats. There was an attack in Kabul last week that left over two dozen people dead. Give us a sense of the nature of the threat now that the Taliban is in control.

Jane Ferguson: Well, despite the fact that the Taliban used to undertake these kinds of attacks on a regular basis for years in Kabul, they now find themselves having to repel these attacks that are being carried out by the Afghan version of ISIS, or ISIS-K, as they call it here.

On Tuesday, there was a huge attack, as you have said, in a major military hospital here, the Daud Khan Hospital in the center of Kabul, and that killed about 25 people, including a senior commander within the Taliban.

So that was a major victory for ISIS over the Taliban and only underscores the pressure that the group is under. They're meant to be the group of law and order, of bringing an end to this war. That's what they said whenever they entered Kabul. But if people here continue to see these attacks, it continues to undermine their grip of power across the country.

Judy Woodruff: And, Jane, you were telling us it's not just ISIS. There are other challenges facing this new government.

Jane Ferguson: There are huge challenges facing the Taliban, arguably even larger than the ISIS threat at the moment, existential challenges to their control of this country.

Many of the technocrats, most of them are not back in their jobs. Many of them got on those C-17 flights out of this country. When you go to major government ministries, the huge buildings here in Kabul, most of them are empty. There are not people here running the country.

Added to that is the fact that, even if they weren't here, they wouldn't be able to pay their salaries. And they're only going to come under more pressure from the public if people face extreme economic hardships and famine.

They're also — they're also struggling to really build an international entity for themselves, or at least to be accepted internationally. They very much so want to be taken seriously diplomatically. However, their moves since taking over the government here have not made that easy for the international community, banning girls from school from a certain age. Teenage girls are not allowed to go to school, university.

Forming a government that doesn't represent the various ethnicities in the government — in the country across Afghanistan, many of these moves have been seen as isolating them even further from diplomatic communities. And that only cuts them off from the likelihood of aid and finances even further.

Judy Woodruff: Yes, it just sounds like problems from every direction one can imagine. Jane Ferguson, who is reporting for us back in Afghanistan. Jane, thank you so much.

Jane Ferguson: Thank you, Judy.


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