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Afghan central bank drained dollar stockpile before Kabul fell

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(Last Updated On: September 30, 2021)

The Afghan central bank ran down most of its U.S. dollar cash reserves in the weeks before the Taliban took control of the country, according to an assessment prepared for Afghanistan’s international donors, exacerbating the current economic crisis.

The confidential, two-page brief, written early this month by senior international economic officials for institutions including the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, said the country’s severe cash shortage began before the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) took control of Kabul, Reuters reported.

It criticised how the central bank’s former leadership handled the crisis in the months before the IEA’s conquest, including decisions to auction unusually large amounts of U.S. dollars and move money from Kabul to provincial branches.

“FX (foreign exchange) reserves in CB’s (central bank) vaults in Kabul have depleted, the CB cannot meet … cash requests,” the report, seen by Reuters, said.

“The biggest source of the problem is the mismanagement at the central bank prior to the Taliban (IEA) takeover,” it added.

Shah Mehrabi, chairman of the central bank’s audit committee who helped oversee the bank before the IEA took over and is still in his post, defended the central bank’s actions, saying it was trying to prevent a run on the local Afghani currency.

The extent of the cash shortage can be seen on the streets of Afghan cities, where people have been queuing for hours to withdraw dollar savings amid strict limits on how much they can take out.

Even before the shock of the Western-backed government’s collapse, the economy was struggling, but the return of the IEA and abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign aid has left it in deep crisis.

Prices for staples like flour have spiralled while work has dried up, leaving millions facing hunger as winter approaches.

Aid dries up

Under the previous government, the central bank relied on cash shipments of $249 million, delivered roughly every three months in boxes of bound $100 notes and stored in the vaults of the central bank and presidential palace, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.

That money has dried up as foreign powers shy away from dealing directly with the IEA.

The central bank, which plays a key role in Afghanistan because it distributes aid from countries like the United States, said on Wednesday it had finalised a plan to meet the country’s foreign currency needs. It gave no details.

The hard currency crunch is making it difficult for the IEA to meet basic needs, including paying for power or dispersing salaries to government employees, many of whom have not been paid in months.

Afghanistan’s roughly $9 billion of offshore reserves were frozen as soon as the IEA captured Kabul, leaving the central bank with just the cash in its vaults.

According to the report, the central bank auctioned off $1.5 billion between June 1 and August 15 to local foreign exchange dealers, which it said was “strikingly high”.

“By August 15, the Central Bank had an outstanding liability of $700 million and 50 billion Afghanis ($569 million) towards the commercial banks,” it said, adding that this had been a major factor in emptying its coffers.

Afghan central bank official Mehrabi said, however, that although almost $1.5 billion of auctions had been announced, the actual amount sold was $714 million.

He said the central bank had “continued its foreign exchange auction to reduce the depreciation and inflation.”

Money missing?

The report also questioned a decision by the central bank to shift some of its reserves to provincial branches, putting it at risk as IEA forces made advances across the country from late 2020 in the runup to their victory.

It said around $202 million was kept in these branches at the end of 2020, compared with $12.9 million in 2019, and that the cash was not moved as provinces started to fall to the IEA.

“Some money is reportedly lost (stolen) from ‘some’ of the provincial branches,” the report said, without specifying how much.

Mehrabi said the central bank was investigating money “stolen” from three of its branches, although not by the IEA. He gave no further details.

Former central bank governor Ajmal Ahmady, who left the country the day after Kabul fell, did not respond to emails and other messages requesting comment on his and the bank’s actions in the months before the IEA returned to power.

Ahmady has said on Twitter in recent weeks that he did his best to manage the situation, and blamed any cash shortfall on the freezing of central bank assets abroad.

In his statements, he also said the central bank had managed the economy well prior to the fall of Kabul and that he felt bad about leaving staff behind but feared for his safety. He has said no money was stolen from any reserve account.

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Otunbayeva meets acting head of TVET in Kabul

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(Last Updated On: February 6, 2023)

The head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) emphasized the need for the inclusion of women and girls in vocational education on Monday in a meeting with Ghulam Haider Shahamat, acting head of Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

In this meeting, Roza Otunbayeva said that vocational training is necessary for the economic development of Afghanistan and women and girls should be included.

Shahamat also expressed that technical and vocational education is effective for poverty alleviation and the growth of the country’s economy.

“The Technical Vocational Education and Training has 383 institutes and high schools all over Afghanistan, which operate in 250 districts and have 6850 staff,” said Shahamat.

Meanwhile, some experts say that Afghanistan needs to develop and create job opportunities for everyone, especially women and girls, and all international institutions play a constructive role for Afghanistan’s progress.

“All organizations which work under the framework of the United Nations can have positive roles in Afghanistan,” said Sarah Rahmani, women rights activist.

In this meeting, the head of the United Nations Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) was also present and emphasized on signing an agreement and creating a joint working group between both institutions.

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Afghanistan’s central bank to auction $17 million this week

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(Last Updated On: February 6, 2023)

Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB) has announced that it will auction $17 million on Wednesday as part of the efforts to stabilize the value of the Afghan currency against foreign currencies.

In a series of tweets on Monday, the Central Bank of Afghanistan asked qualified private banks and exchange companies to participate in the auction.

The winners of the auction are obliged to settle their accounts by the end of the day. As per the announcement, partial settlement of transactions is not allowed and the winners of the auction are obliged to transfer the payable amount to the central bank in cash within a certain time.

This is the second time in a week the central bank is auctioning US dollars to keep the value of Afghani stable.

The exchange rate was 90 AFN to the US dollar on Monday, February 6, 2023. The central bank sold $16 million on Sunday.

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Russia has no plans to close its embassy in Afghanistan, says envoy

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(Last Updated On: February 6, 2023)

Russia has no plans to close its diplomatic mission in Kabul, Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Second Asian Department Zamir Kabulov told TASS on Monday.

Earlier, the Al-Arabiya TV channel reported that the authorities of several Arab and Western countries decided to close their diplomatic missions in Kabul because of security threats.

“Such thoughts have not even occurred,” Kabulov said, when asked whether Russia had such plans.

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