World Bank sees ‘alternative’ path for Afghanistan to escape economic woes

KABUL (AFP): Afghanistan can avoid an economic collapse, but only if it receives international assistance and if the Taliban government respects human rights and “sound” management of its finances, the World Bank said Wednesday.

“An alternative pathway is possible,” the Washington-based development lender said in a statement, pointing to Afghanistan’s agricultural and natural resource sectors, young population and improving security.

“But moving towards this trajectory would require actions by both the international community and the interim Taliban administration,” the World Bank said.

Among donors, “there is an expectation that the Interim Taliban Administration adheres to basic standards for the treatment of women and girls, respect for human rights and sound economic management.”

Since taking power last August, the Taliban has gone back on promises of a softer version of the harsh rule that characterized their first stint in power from 1996 to 2001.

Late last month, they reversed their decision to allow girls to study in secondary schools.

The country has also descended into a serious economic crisis after countries froze Afghanistan’s assets held abroad and cut off aid, though some assistance has been restored.

The World Bank warned that “under current conditions, the outlook for Afghanistan’s economy is dire,” and predicted per-capita GDP would drop by 30 percent by the end of this year compared to 2020, while per-capita incomes have likely fallen by a third in the final months of last year.

“The economy will not grow fast enough to improve livelihoods or generate opportunities for the 600,000 Afghans reaching working age every year,” according to the bank.

Iran summons Afghan envoy after unrest

Iran summoned the Afghan charge d’affaires on Tuesday after a violent protest at its diplomatic mission in western Afghanistan.

Tehran also announced the closure until further notice of its Afghan missions, where other protests had also occurred.

On Monday, dozens of Afghans chanting “Death to Iran” demonstrated outside the Iranian consulate in Herat after videos spread widely over the weekend, purportedly showing Iranians beating Afghan refugees.

Demonstrators burned an Iranian flag and damaged surveillance cameras at the mission before dispersing, an AFP correspondent said. They also threw stones at the compound.

On Monday, a similar anti-Iran protest occurred in the southeastern city of Khost, and another took place outside the Iranian embassy in Kabul.

Another demonstration against the videos occurred near Ahmad Shah Massoud Square in Kabul on Tuesday.

A statement on Iran’s foreign ministry website said the embassy in Kabul had also been targeted.

The statement, issued Tuesday, said the ministry’s director general for South Asia summoned Afghanistan’s charge d’affairs in Tehran “to vigorously protest the attacks on the Iranian embassy in Kabul and the consulate general in Herat”.

It added that the embassy and consular sections in Afghanistan had suspended operations “in order to obtain necessary assurances guaranteeing total security of the missions.”

Iran, which hosts more than five million Afghan refugees, has seen a fresh influx of Afghans since the Taliban returned to power last August.

The protests occurred after the weekend circulation on social media of the videos claiming to show Iranian border guards and Iranian mobs beating Afghan refugees in Iran.

It was unclear when the images were filmed, and their authenticity could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, Iran’s embassy in Kabul called the images “baseless and invalid”.

Since the Taliban seized power, Afghanistan has plunged further into economic crisis, pushing even those without links to the former Western-backed government to scramble for an exit.

Thousands of people daily try to cross into neighbouring Iran in search of work, or in a bid to reach Europe in the hope of asylum.

Iran has so far not recognised the Taliban government.