A story of freedom in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan

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An anonymous letter details how technology brought freedom to a struggling society.

I vividly remember the day I cursed all the banks operating in my country. My friend and I were desperately going from bank to bank, trying to find a way to get paid online. The day before, we had made a decision: we wanted to become independent.

I am quite familiar with the geography of Afghanistan. It is a landlocked mountainous country, laden with bare rocky ridges that intersect across the country. The mountains stretch in all directions, creating beautiful valleys while making it difficult to foray into different regions.

But the world has developed, countless new technologies have emerged, people have even found their way to space. Yet banks in Afghanistan have such a strict set of obligations that over 90% of the population cannot meet them.

To open an account, banks require proof of income, a deed, and other documents that most adults (let alone young people) cannot provide. Even if one manages to open an account, the banks here are severely limited in terms of services – PayPal, Venmo, Wise and other payment solutions do not support Afghanistan.

Upon learning this, I became more and more disappointed and frustrated. I couldn’t let go of all my dreams so easily. I decided to keep looking and in the meantime started my career as a freelance writer.

In a few weeks, I had my first client, a nice gentleman from India. When he realized that I was from Afghanistan, he asked me if I was interested in getting paid in bitcoin.

It was a defining moment for me. Bitcoin, a decentralized asset, without authorization and without borders. It was all I could ask for. While learning about Bitcoin, I found myself obsessed with it. I discovered the ecosystem of decentralized finance and the huge world of digital assets. I decided to work in the industry.

Through the grace of crypto, I have found new friends from all over the world. Although living in different jurisdictions, we all shared a common goal: we wanted to be able to connect and interact without the borders and trivial regulations set by the governing powers.

Doomed to fail

Before I even got to know bitcoin, I somehow knew that the dominant financial legacy here is fundamentally flawed. First, Afghanistan is overdependent on physical US dollars.

This is mainly due to the fact that Afghanistan imports more than it exports, which is rooted in decades of war and conflict that have destroyed even miniature developments that could have contributed to the growth of domestic production.

In the absence of sustainable sources of growth, Afghanistan has relied heavily on the US dollar to defend its currency. Reports reveal that planes loaded with US dollars regularly land in Kabul, sometimes even on a weekly basis.

International aid grants have also played a major role in financing Afghanistan’s spending. According to the World Bank, US-led international aid grants have funded about 75% of the country’s public spending.

The Afghan economy was already grappling with lockdown measures in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, decades of war and the onset of a drought, only to worsen with upcoming events fueled by the storming of Taliban control.

From crisis to disaster

Afghanistan’s already failing economy is only deteriorating after the lightning-fast takeover by the Taliban. With a severe shortage of liquidity, a depreciating currency and rapidly rising commodity prices, recent events have exposed a worst-case scenario for all who live here.

Dozens of my friends, doctors, university professors and staff in the collapsed government have all been affected. While some now earn a tenth of what they used to earn, the majority are not even so lucky. The situation in the private sector is no better, with companies at a standstill due to a lack of liquidity.

The reaction of the United States and global financial bodies has further exacerbated my country’s fragile economy.

The United States has announced that it has frozen more than $ 9 billion in the country’s central bank assets. This has prompted US banks to be more cautious in their interactions with their Afghan counterparts.

Western Union and MoneyGram International, two of the world’s largest money transfer companies, subsequently suspended their services in Afghanistan. Given that family members’ remittances from abroad account for 4% of Afghanistan’s GDP, or about $ 800 million per year, this suspension would further exacerbate the crisis.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) blocked Afghanistan’s access to its reserve, blocking more than $ 450 million in funds due to arrive on August 23, 2021.

All of this would stir up uncertainty and erode confidence among Afghans, leading people to convert their local currencies into US dollars. When local banks and stock exchanges refuse to convert due to lack of liquidity, people will rush to exchange their currencies for goods, which further drives up their prices.

Without immediate action, there is a risk of a collapse of the Afghan currency, which would be followed by a financial crisis that could inflict even more long-term suffering on the Afghan people – and beyond.

As a short-term remedy, the Taliban could get cash injections to defend the local currency – which is quite a challenge considering the group is recognized as a terrorist organization by most countries around the world. The Taliban have imposed many challenges on the Afghan people. Women can no longer keep their jobs – they have been asked to stay at home temporarily. Although no one knows how long this “temporary” measure will last. Women are also strongly advised not to leave their homes without the supervision of a male relative. Just like our personal freedom, our economic freedom is quickly disappearing, as many anticipate that we are on the brink of total economic collapse. Fortunately, developments around technology have provided us with an alternative.

Crypto: a small window on freedom

Digital assets, while not a guarantee of freedom, can help achieve a certain level of freedom. They can be beneficial in bypassing oppressive power structures by providing users with 24/7 access to funds without authorization.

With the financial legacy in Afghanistan on the verge of collapse, a void for another system is already being felt. Granted, Bitcoin cannot fix Afghanistan, but it does suggest an alternative financial system for every Afghan man and woman who has been cut off from the world.

Since the Taliban took control on August 15, 2021, all local banks and exchanges have been closed across the country. People lined up in front of the banks, hoping to withdraw their money at this time of extreme urgency. Yet it is unclear when the banks will reopen and whether they will have enough resources to pay all depositors.

In this time of great disruption, Afghan crypto users have been the least affected. For my part, I was able to continue my financial activities normally as if nothing had happened. With almost 100% of my portfolio in crypto, inflation is the last thing I need to worry about.

This is also true for other Afghan crypto users. Many Afghan crypto investors and traders are unaffected by the recent surge in prices and devaluation of the Afghan currency, as bitcoin has remained a surefire hedge against inflation – a beacon in the grim reality of our economic situation.

There is yet another vital role for crypto in Afghanistan. With more than 200,000 internally displaced Afghans and more than 100,000 leaving the country with little more than clothes, nonprofits see crypto as the most efficient way to donate now that Giant money transfer companies have halted their services in the country.

And although women currently may not be able to return to work – jobs they previously held for years – they too can access digital assets. Such networks do not discriminate like the Taliban. Instead, they empower. They give women an alternative means of economic freedom, even when the Taliban provoke the opposite.

Crypto can play a constructive role in the lives of many. It can literally save lives. The tragedy in Afghanistan has demonstrated this.

I don’t know how we can fix Afghanistan. But I know crypto is helping. It provides us with a slice of an important human element that we otherwise don’t have: economic freedom.

I am living proof.

This is a guest post from Noor. The opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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