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DUBAI: Unpaid for months and with many mouths to feed, Afghan assistant professor Khalilullah Tawhidyar recently found temporary work on a construction site.
With the 300 Afghans ($ 3.30) he earned that day, he bought provisions for his family.
The former member of a government task force on education reform, who teaches English at Parwan University just north of Kabul, is among thousands of educated middle-class Afghans who fight poverty as the country’s economy falters.
“I had no choice,” Tawhidyar told Reuters, adding that he had not received his salary for three months. “This is the story of many educated people here now.”
Already grappling with a severe drought and the coronavirus pandemic, Afghanistan’s financial crisis has worsened since the Taliban returned to power in mid-August.
Billions of dollars in international aid have dried up as the international community seeks to interact with the hardline Islamist movement, and billions more in foreign currency reserves are locked in coffers in the West.
“You see doctors, teachers, judges forced to work as traders, taxi drivers or laborers,” said Victor Moses, country director for Afghanistan for the nonprofit group CARE.
A report from the group last month said nearly half of the Afghan population – around 19 million people – face acute hunger. According to a recent UN report, up to 97% of the population could fall below the poverty line by mid-2022.
Over the weekend, the Taliban renewed their calls for recognition from their government, saying failure to do so and the continued freezing of Afghan funds abroad would cause problems not only for the country but for the world.
Tawhidyar, who has a master’s degree in India and took courses in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, said he started manual labor after running out of money and food.
If he sometimes goes to the public university where he works, classes have not yet resumed due to lack of funding.
Like many Afghan households, Tawhidyar lives with her extended family and 17 people depend on her salary.
“I was making just enough money to support myself,” said the 36-year-old. When the paycheck ceased, he borrowed from friends and relatives, but it ran out weeks ago. By this time, his heavily pregnant wife had missed two doctor’s appointments.
“The situation came about that we didn’t have bread… we were just cooking rice and then the rice also finished,” he said.
Syed Bashir Aalemy, head of the English department at Tawhidyar University, said he had been working as a taxi driver for a few weeks.
“There is no other way,” Aalemy said. With fuel prices rising, that job could dry up, he added.
The rise of an educated middle class, working in education and government or for aid groups, banks, and media and telecommunications companies, has been one of the most visible products of 20 years of Western engagement in Afghanistan.
Thousands of these people fled in the chaotic evacuation that followed the Taliban’s meteoric victory in August, fearing a return to their harsh rule and restricted freedoms. For those who stay, financial distress is common, even among the wealthiest.
Abdul, a 41-year-old former police officer in Kabul and father of four, said he recently sold the last piece of land he inherited from his father in order to buy a taxi.
The 300 to 500 Afghans he earned each day barely enough to provide daily meals for his family of six, added Abdul, who declined to give his last name for security reasons.
Tawhidyar said he was carrying a bag of construction materials to the construction site when a friend took a picture of him.
Later that night in mid-October, he said, he posted an emotional Facebook post with the image. “I was thinking about where I have come to in my life.”
The post quickly went viral with thousands of shares on social media, and some of his friends reached out to express their sympathy and offer financial assistance.
He borrowed around $ 300 from close friends who insisted he take the money, he said.
“But how long am I going to borrow?” I already have a debt of several thousand dollars.
Fearing a backlash and warnings from Afghans supporting the Taliban’s return to power, he said he had since deleted the post and disabled his Facebook account.
If the university salary does not arrive, he says, he will have to return to manual labor.


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