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Liquidity crisis at core of Afghanistan’s economic challenges: SIGAR



(Last Updated On: May 6, 2022)

Afghanistan continued to face a severe liquidity crisis this quarter with access to physical bank notes constrained and banks facing major liquidity challenges due to declining economic activity, lack of trust in the banking center among Afghans, and an inability to transact internationally.

The US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) said in its latest quarterly report that Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), Afghanistan’s central bank, will require significant technical support from the international community to tackle these challenges.

The report stated that prior to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s (IEA) takeover in August last year, Afghanistan’s financial system had been underdeveloped relative to the context of its growth in recent decades, with a low assets-to-GDP ratio and a heavily dollarized banking system.

Approximately 60% of deposits in the country were made in foreign currency. The report stated that in this monetary environment, maintaining financial stability requires both domestic currency (AFN) liquidity and, more importantly, foreign exchange (FX) liquidity.

However, DAB is limited in its ability to control the AFN monetary supply and value due to several factors including the lack of domestic technical capabilities to print currency, which Afghanistan outsources to foreign companies.

“For years, DAB would prop up the value of the afghani (AFN) by regularly auctioning US dollars pulled from its foreign reserves. Prior to August 2021, Afghanistan’s central bank reportedly received quarterly shipments of $249 million in US banknotes from its foreign reserves. This stopped after the Taliban (IEA) takeover prompted the United States to place a hold on US-based Afghan central bank reserves.

“The loss of these US dollar transfers and other sources of foreign currency plunged Afghanistan’s financial system into free fall,” SIGAR stated.

With Afghanistan’s international reserves, including banking sector foreign exchange deposits at the DAB, frozen; the SWIFT system and international settlements suspended; grant transfers suspended; and AFN liquidity printing interrupted, a dramatic adverse shock in the financial and payment systems ensued.

The resulting liquidity crisis has caused salary disruptions for hundreds of thousands of government employees, teachers, and health-care workers, and has imposed limitations on the operations of international aid groups in the country.

“The banking system is totally paralyzed. The central bank is not operating,” according to Robert Mardini, director general for the International Committee of the Red Cross as cited by SIGAR.

Mardini said that his organization is instead paying 10,000 doctors and nurses via the informal hawala money-transfer system.

This has also contributed to a worsening domestic credit market. In the absence of international support, banks have ceased extending new credit to small- and medium-sized enterprises.

In recent months, the increased supply of US dollars from humanitarian channels, averaging around $150 million per month, has helped stabilize the value of the afghani.

However, these humanitarian channels are viewed as stopgap measures that are an insufficient substitute for the normal functioning of a central bank, SIGAR stated.

In her March 2 statement to the UN Security Council, UNAMA head Deborah Lyons cited the “lack of access to hard currency reserves, lack of liquidity, and constraints on the central bank to carry out some of its core functions” as key challenges to reviving the Afghan economy.

Total international DAB reserves were $9.76 billion at the end of 2020, according to the most recent data available to the IMF. Of this amount, $2 billion was deposited in financial institutions in the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates.

Some $7 billion in DAB reserve funds deposited at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York are now frozen by the US government.

Economists at New York University and the University of Chicago suggested that if central-bank reserves were placed directly with households or with other financial intermediaries, it could enhance the desired increase in liquidity.

Liquidity is a concern for households as well as for the banking system and businesses. Raising household liquidity in Afghanistan is challenged by rising unemployment, the fact that only 10–20% of Afghans have bank accounts, the uncertain status of DAB’s electronic payment system and the declining volume of market transactions as reflected in the country’s declining GDP.

SIGAR stated however that the Biden Administration is currently exploring possible avenues for disbursing $3.5 billion of the frozen assets for humanitarian relief efforts, possibly through a separate trust fund or by providing support through the United Nations or another enabling organization.

US Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West has stated that the $3.5 billion could alternatively contribute toward “the potential recapitalization of a future central bank [in Afghanistan] and the recapitalization of a financial system.”

The move to freeze assets meanwhile sparked outrage throughout Afghan society, including among leaders unaffiliated with the IEA.

Shah Mehrabi, a long-time member of the Afghan central bank’s board of governors, called the decision “unconscionable” and “short-sighted.”

Mehrabi argued that the central bank should be treated as independent of the IEA regime, and that depriving the bank of its reserves could lead to “total collapse of the banking system” and further hurt millions of Afghans suffering in the economic and humanitarian crises.

The order to freeze assets has also drawn criticism from US and international policy analysts, human rights groups, lawyers, and financial experts, SIGAR reported.

Analysts have expressed concern over both the seizure of the reserves and the reported proposals to provide those funds in the form of humanitarian assistance.

Paul Fishstein of NYU’s Center on International Cooperation argues that the executive order gave inadequate attention to the macroeconomic collapse of the country.

Fishstein said the release of the central bank’s reserves could instead be used to restore unnecessary exchange rate stability and ease the liquidity crisis.

William Byrd of the US Institute of Peace (USIP) said that even if only half of DAB’s total reserves are devoted to support its basic activities as a central bank, it would “provide an opportunity to make a start toward stabilizing the economy and private sector.”


Afghanistan exports 150 tons of dried tomatoes to Europe



(Last Updated On: October 1, 2023)

State-owned corporation Spinzar has dispatched 150 tons of dried tomatoes in the first such consignment to Europe, officials announced Sunday.

“This is a great achievement of the Islamic Emirate which exports vegetables from Afghanistan to European countries,” Abdul Hamid Akhundzada, head of the company said as quoted in a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance.

Spinzar company resumed operations around a year ago after decades of closure.

It also produces and processes cotton, cottonseed oil, sesame and tissue paper.

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Members of private security meet with Kazakhstan counterparts



(Last Updated On: September 27, 2023)

A bilateral meeting between members of the private sectors of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan was held in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Trade on Tuesday with the aim of attracting more investment in the country.

At the meeting, representatives of the private sector of the two countries discussed investments in various sectors including the non-alcoholic beverages sector, gemstones stones and minerals, chemical fertilizers, car batteries, clothing and textiles, petroleum products, flour and wheat, the ministry said.

They also discussed tourism, investment in restaurant businesses and food, the ministry added.

Furthermore, the businessmen and investors of Kazakhstan thanked the Afghans for their hospitality and described Afghanistan as a safe place and a suitable environment for business and investment.

Representatives of the private sector of Kazakhstan spoke about holding exhibitions in Kabul, Balkh and Kandahar provinces, adding that in the near future they plan to hold exhibitions of Afghan manufacturing industries in Kazakhstan and an exhibition of Kazakh products in Afghanistan.

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Female entrepreneurs at Kabul women’s market say businesses are doing well



(Last Updated On: September 26, 2023)

A number of female entrepreneurs at the special women’s market in Kabul say their businesses are improving day-by-day and that they have also set up online shopping opportunities for women.

These women say they are happy to have their own market where they can sell their own goods.

“Our clothes are Afghani Gand (traditional dress). Our sellers and buyers are both women. We are happy that such a market has been established in Kabul,” said Ferozah Qasimi, a woman entrepreneur.

“The good thing about this market for women and girls is that they can easily and calmly use the green space here, relax their minds and buy the things they need from one place,” said another woman entrepreneur.

“My request to government and foreign institutions is to join hands with us, to cooperate with us so that we can make further progress in our work,” said another businesswoman.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Chamber of Commerce says there is no limit to women entrepreneurs.

“We are seeing very good developments in this chamber which is creating markets and creating expos,” said Salma Yousafzai, head of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

The Ministry of Industry and Commerce (MoIC) spokesperson Abdulsalam Jawad Akhundzada stated that the ministry supports businesswomen.

“The Ministry of Industry and Commerce has always supported women entrepreneurs and has always supported them in all aspects of trade and industry,” said Akhundzada.

“Thousands of women in 34 provinces of Afghanistan are actually working in various sectors of industry and investment,” he added.

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