International 17/08/2021

Burqa prices rise five-fold in Kabul

Taliban patrol the streets of the capital with Afghan police vehicles

3 min
Afghan women with their children run to the airport to try to flee from the Taliban.

BarcelonaRoqia's voice trembles when she speaks on the phone from Kabul. She explains that a few hours before the Taliban entered the Afghan capital on Sunday, she went to buy a burqa for herself and her two daughters, aged 16 and 18. So far the fundamentalists have not made women cover themselves with the full-face veil when they go out, but she wanted to have them just in case. Still, Roqia went home empty-handed. She didn't have enough money to pay for the burqas. The price has increased fivefold in Taliban-ruled Kabul: they used to cost 500 Afghanis (about €3.8) and now they can't be found for less than 2,500 (about €18).

These are not the only prices that have skyrocketed. Rice, bread, petrol... everything has also gone up. At the same time the Afghan currency has plummeted. Until 2014, when most international troops were still in Afghanistan, one euro was equivalent to about 58 Afghanis. Now one euro is worth 128 Afghanis.

Roqia says the Taliban have put up posters in some streets in her neighbourhood, Khair Khana, in the north of the capital, warning that they will punish shopkeepers who raise prices even higher. She has not been out on the streets since Sunday, but her two sons, who went to buy bread on Monday, told her. Some shops are open, others have not dared. Her sons have also seen Taliban passing by on motorbikes or in Afghan police vehicles, which are now in the hands of the fundamentalists after police officers deserted en masse. She says they were waving the Taliban white flag and chanting "Allahu-akbar", Allah is the greatest.

Taliban waving their regime's white flag in Kabul

It is difficult to know what the situation is in the Afghan capital as a whole, because the city is huge. It is home to five million people. Sameem, who lives in the Darwaz-e-Kabul area, says that in his neighbourhood shops are also open and the Taliban patrol the streets. Some even move around in Humvees, the American armoured vehicles that Washington gave the Afghan army.

"Don't ask me how I feel," replies Shinkai Karokhail, her voice cracking, also on the phone. She is one of the best-known members of the Afghan parliament and also one of the most combative. The constitution that was adopted in 2004 after the fall of the Taliban regime stated that 25% of the seats had to be reserved for women. Karokhail pushed in 2009 for the passage of a law against gender-based violence in Afghanistan that made it a crime for a husband to beat his wife. Before then, it wasn't. And in 2016, after suffering from breast cancer and having to undergo a traumatic double mastectomy, she moved heaven and earth to get the first mammography machine to Afghanistan. Until then there was no such machine in the country, not even in private hospitals.

"No one has called me," the MP laments, who does not understand that, after rubbing shoulders with diplomats from the most important foreign embassies, absolutely no one has contacted her, nor has anyone been concerned about her physical integrity. Nothing. "I have left home. Now I am in a more discreet place," says the deputy, who used to live in a nice house near Darulaman road, west of Kabul. Now she is in hiding, waiting, like so many others, to be evacuated to the United States, Canada or wherever. But outside Afghanistan, because there is no way of knowing what will happen there.

So far the Taliban have not announced what restrictions they will impose on women, but during their regime they forbade them to work outside the home, to study and even to have access to health care. They also banned photographs of people, and hairdressers in Kabul and wedding dress and make-up shops have already started to cover up images of women's faces, just in case. Their owners don't want to get into trouble.

Theft and looting

"Everyone is recommending that I leave the country, at least as long as the chaos lasts," says Palwasha Hassan, who heads AWEC, one of many women's rights organisations in the country. It remains to be seen whether these associations will continue to operate. Between 1996 and 2001, when the Taliban were in power, all organisations were also banned and forced to operate underground.

Hassan is still at home, she has not gone into hiding anywhere, even though she has received threats over the phone. Her driver went out this morning and armed men stopped him in the street. "First they asked him for the car's documents, then they forced him out and took the vehicle," she recounts. Hassan does not know if the robbers were Taliban. She only knows that they were armed and that many people are taking advantage of the occasion to steal anything.

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