Afghan money changers reopen after strike over Taliban license fees

Thousands of stockbrokers in Afghanistan ended their strike on Monday, the brokers commission said, a day after closing their shops in protest at a sharp increase in license fees imposed by the Taliban authorities.

Afghanistan’s formal banking system collapsed when the Taliban returned to power in August last year, ending two decades of US-led military intervention in the deeply impoverished country.

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Since then, money changers – which exchange currency, make informal money transfers and even provide loans – have played a key role in meeting the financial needs of many of the 38 million Afghan citizens mired in the humanitarian crisis.

“Today foreign exchange markets across Afghanistan are open,” Abdul Rahman Zeerak, spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Exchange Commission, told AFP.

“They (the Taliban leaders) demanded that we open the markets and that they fully solve our problems.”

Money changers in Kabul and other cities including Herat and Kunduz went on strike on Sunday after the central bank raised their license fees to five million Afghans ($56,000) from 300,000.

Zeerak said the central bank has also asked forex traders to transact online and they must have a minimum of 50 million Afghans to operate.

On Tuesday, the commission will have a meeting with the finance ministry and the governor of the central bank of Afghanistan, he said.

Experts said the central bank’s new guidelines were driven by the Taliban’s desire to cut off funding channels for militant groups.

Many foreign countries have made aid to Afghanistan conditional on the Taliban regime guaranteeing human rights and preventing international terrorist groups from operating in the country.

The Afghan money market had been volatile for several months after the United States seized billions of dollars in Afghan assets during its hasty withdrawal when the Taliban took power.

Since then, there has been a shortage of dollars, as international donors also suspended massive aid inflows that had sustained the Afghan economy for two decades during the US presence in the country.

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