The U.S. Is Stealing Afghanistan’s Money and Starving Its People

Afghan journalist Masood Shnizai describes his country’s worsening plight since the U.S. departure last year.

A man distributes bread to Burka-wearing Afghan women outside a bakery in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Dec, 2, 2021.
A man distributes bread to Burka-wearing Afghan women outside a bakery in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Dec, 2, 2021. Photo: Petros Giannakouris/AP; Illustration: The Intercept

As their country’s economic crisis continues to spiral out of control, Afghans are finding themselves forced to resort to increasingly desperate measures just to get enough food for their families. The crisis is driven by the U.S. refusal to release frozen Afghan central bank reserves, a measure that might restore some semblance of normalcy to the economy. Afghan journalist Masood Shnizai rejoins the podcast to discuss the situation in his country.

[Deconstructed theme music.]

Newscaster: The U.N. says acute hunger has spiked around the world with a number of people facing famine, rising by 3 million over the past year. But this year’s spike is largely due to surging food insecurity in Afghanistan, where more than half the population is malnourished. Aid agencies say millions of children could starve to death.

Ryan Grim: This week, Afghanistan got some rare attention in Congress at a hearing in which Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, quizzed witnesses about the U.S.-fueled crisis unfolding there.

Sen. Chris Murphy: And I’d like you all to give us a little bit of advice as to how we best unlock the significant amount of money that the United States currently has in its possession at its disposal to try to address this crisis. In February, President Biden authorized $3.5 billion, that’s about half of Afghanistan’s frozen assets, to be used “for the benefit of the Afghan people.” But three months later, we have not yet figured out what that international financing mechanism is. It still hasn’t been set up.

RG: First up was David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program, whose organization has been trying to get food directly to those in need without it passing through the government’s hands.

David Beasley: And so we actually sat down with the Taliban and said: Look, no one’s gonna give you money. Let it go directly to us, without your fingerprints being on it.

They, I would say, consented, but it didn’t matter. But it worked out when money came directly to us. But because of lack of funding, we’re having to cut back, cut back, cut back, and at least try to reach those knocking on famine’s door, but we’ve got to unleash those funds whatever it takes, because otherwise you either got appropriate more dollars. And if you don’t, you have famine, you have destabilization, which means you will have more migration coming out of Afghanistan. And you’re gonna have an extraordinary amount of recruitment by extremist groups for terrorist training activities.

RG: Next was Jada Dorian McKenna, CEO of Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian NGO.

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna: We’ve seen news accounts of families selling off young girls for dowry money, because there’s just no money coming in. Opium production is through the roof, we need to be able to help save people from starvation.

CM: But money coming directly to your programming does not enrich the Taliban in any way, shape, or form?

TDM: No. No. And we’ve been working with Treasury to create different rules and such so that we can program those funds.

CM: This is long overdue. A world in which we are starved for resources, here lies, for the time being $3.5 billion dollars that is ready to go. And you have pointed out that the programming you’re running on the ground right now directly benefits the Afghan people without unjustly profiting the Taliban. You are not alone in that club, there are plenty of mechanisms that will allow us to do both — save lives and make sure that this money doesn’t end up in the hands of the wrong people. And so my hope is that this committee can work with the administration to expedite a mechanism to get that money released. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

RG: Now, the idea that the U.S. needs a new mechanism to get Afghanistan’s money to Afghanistan is a bit absurd. We spent 20 years building an independent central bank there that remains functional and independent. The reserves belong to the bank and could simply be returned to the bank; the U.S. would be able to monitor the movement of the money and pull it if we didn’t like what was happening. We’re not sitting on the money because we can’t figure out what to do with it. We’re sitting on it, because that’s what we want to do. The result has been a collapse of the Afghan economy.

In January, we spoke with Afghan journalist Masood Shnizai about the conditions there. This week, we’re checking back in with him.

Well, Masood Shnizai, welcome back to Deconstructed. Thank you for joining me again.

Masood Shnizai: Thank you, Ryan. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

RG: So we spoke last time about mid-January, about four months ago. About a month after you and I spoke, the Biden administration announced that he had finally made a decision about what it was going to do with the central bank assets, the central bank reserves of the Afghan central bank that it had seized. And so it was going to split it. It was going to take half of the central bank reserves and spend it on helping the Afghan people and it was going to take the other half and it was going to give it to victims of 9/11.

Now, when you and I first spoke, we talked a lot about the central bank reserves and how their seizure had basically brought the economy to a halt in the same way that if some foreign country seized all the assets of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the economy would just grind to a halt.

So at the time, you said people were you know, burning furniture, selling furniture just to survive and this was mid January. So nothing has changed in terms of the assets being released, but what was the winter like? What was January and February like? Is there a new normal there? And how are you doing?

MS: Thank you so much. I’m doing well. I’m doing fine. The winter was a very bad winter for all the people in Afghanistan, especially for the poor people.

In the winter, when you’re roaming around the streets in the city, you will see women in the harshest weather conditions, in the snow, and they used to be sitting on the street and begging. And it was a very bad situation.

RG: What’s it like now?

MS: Now, the poverty is still there. It’s not lifted. The people are now used to the life, to the new life. But still, there are a lot of beggars. The number of poor people, the number of jobless people, poverty is increasing. Nothing dramatic has happened to change the situation.

RG: And without saying anything that would get you in trouble, what’s a typical day or typical week like for you?

MS: Well, for me, I’m a local producer and local journalist, and I’m working. I’m busy with Western journalists and filmmakers most of the time. And so we have no problems working. We have no problems roaming around the country with Western journalists. Last week, we were traveling to Kandahar, to Helmand, to Lashkargah, to places which were the strongholds of the Taliban throughout history, and we had no issues security wise. And yeah.

RG: And you’re traveling with Western journalists?

MS: Yeah, I’m traveling with Western journalists. We traveled from Helmand to Kabul by road for, I think it was, 15 to 16 hours. We had no issues. We were traveling that night as well.

RG: How does that compare to before the Taliban took over?

MS: Well, security wise, it’s much better, because at that time, the Taliban, they were targeting Westerners, they were targeting Americans. But now they are very hospitable to Western journalists and other Westerners. So it’s changed a lot.

RG: What accounts for that change? You think just because now they’re in power and the war’s over? Or is there something else going on that explains why there’s this, this freedom of movement amid basically a famine?

MS: Well, they are saying that now the war is over, we were fighting because Afghanistan was under American occupation, and there were Americans and other Westerners with their weapons and guns to kill us. And now they are not coming here to kill us; they’re coming for other business, so we are happy to have them. And we have the responsibility to protect everyone, including the Afghans themselves.

So they feel this responsibility to protect any visitors and everyone in the country.

MS: And since you’re able to stay busy with work, I would imagine that you probably feel some responsibility for a lot of family or friends. Are you helping other people? How much strain is there on people who are able to find work in the Afghan economy?

RG: Yes. You have to help other families, like relatives, like family, like friends. So yeah, there is strain on people who are working. I have friends who are working in the United States and other places, and each of them are helping more than two families. So I have a friend who is helping five families. He’s in the U.S., and he’s helping five families here in Afghanistan.

RG: And given the sanctions, how are they getting money back? Is it mostly crypto?

MS: Actually, the banks are still not operating and the situation with the bank system is a very bad situation. If you have money in the bank, you have to wait. And you will only be able to get a portion of your money.

There are other ways like the exchange, and if they want to send money to Afghanistan, they either have to bring cash or wire to banks in Dubai and then from Dubai they use the exchange services to transfer it to the country.

And the Westerners who are coming to Afghanistan, all of them bring cash. MoneyGram started operating. I think Western Union is also now working. So people are not very used to crypto. Crypto is just a possibility in critical situations.

RG: What do people do in Afghanistan with crypto once they’ve gotten it in? Can you trade it with other people? I know it’s a small thing on the side. But I’ve been curious of how that’s unfolding.

MS: Yes, the people I know who are into crypto, they are just trading crypto for USD, or they’re trading crypto with other crypto just to make a living on that. And some of them, unfortunately, lose money. And there are some who are making money.

RG: Right.

MS: And they are just surviving on that.

RG: And so you talked about how the banks are still basically not open. And that’s directly a function of the U.S. seizing the Afghan central bank’s funds. Last time we spoke, importers were having a very hard time as well, because that’s a function that’s very dependent on the central bank, as well, balance of payments. What’s the status with the kind of functioning of the economy generally? When we spoke, you said that there were an enormous number of shops that had just closed, that workers weren’t able to get paychecks and people weren’t able to import goods? Has any of that shaken up as a result of other countries coming in? Or more creative ways of maneuvering through the economy? Or is it still in a pretty frozen state?

MS: No, like the normal shops, or like grocery, supermarkets, and electronics, these shops are operating, but the big businesses. Like the other businesses, they are not able — I can give you an example, like 270 media outlets who are operating in Afghanistan, before the fall, they closed. They closed in the last couple of months. So that’s just an example. Universities, they will downsize their staff, and many other businesses like big factories who are working, because there are no exports, and they are not able to import raw material. They are closed factory companies. So only the basic necessities like flour, like rice, oil, these things because they are the basic necessities and we have to have them somehow. The traders find some ways to import them.

RG: How are the prices?

MS: The prices, compared to last year, May, they are higher, they’re very high. The dollar value has come down a little bit since we last spoke; $1 right now is around 85 Afghan currency. The prices spiked very much in the winter, in the first months of the winter. But now, because there are some dollars coming into the country with United Nations aid, for that reason, the dollar has come down a little bit.

RG: Right, because when we’d spoken there were very few dollars, it felt like, just circulating throughout the economy. And that even as the central bank hasn’t been able to operate as it wants to, the U.N. just pumping some money in in kind of a Keynesian way, you’re starting to see that have an effect, you’re starting to see dollars circulate again.

MS: Yeah. Yeah. That has some effect on the dollars. But there’s still no liquidity, very little liquidity in the money markets. The injection of the U.N. dollars is not helping so much.

RG: Mhmm.

MS: The U.N. report about food security, it says that there are 20 million Afghans. The total population is around 35 million. So 20 million Afghans are facing acute food insecurity. They’re either in crisis condition or an emergency condition. But three, four months ago, it was 22 million. So that’s improved only by 2 million. There are still 20 million people who are facing acute food insecurity.

RG: And what does that look like? Over here in the United States, we just got numbers on our annual inflation and our inflation rose, I think, 8.5% year over year, and it has the American people apoplectic with rage. The gas prices are up, food prices are up, we currently have a shortage, actually, of infant formula.

But I’m curious what it looks like and just compared to Afghanistan prior, what does it mean to have 20 million people who are facing acute [food insecurity]? Does it change the culture? Are people angrier at each other? Are people just staying inside a lot more? I mean, what does it do to a society to have so many people just simply unable to afford to feed themselves efficiently?

MS: Well, firstly, people become disappointed and hopeless. And then they try to leave the country. Thousands of people are, every day, getting out of the country.

RG: Into Iran or which direction are they headed?

MS: Yeah, into Iran. And some people are then trying to go to Turkey. And then from there to European countries.

With a lot of poverty in the society, the number of crimes increases, like kidnappings in some cities. The security situation in most cities is good. But then I recently heard that the number of kidnappings in Herat, in the western city of Herat, it’s now again started: people get kidnapped, and there’s robberies, and carjacking. So this is worrying people.

And people get depressed. People are so depressed, the psychological situation. Before the change in power, they were always stressed out, they were depressed because of the war. Everywhere people were dying, and then bombings and fighting and this, but now people are so stressed out because of because of no jobs, because of no money and lack of employment.

According to SIGAR, our Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, they reported that 900,000 people lost jobs in Afghanistan. Basically women are so affected because the women are hurt the most because most of the women lost jobs. There are still women working.

RG: And why did they lose jobs? Is the Taliban allowing women to work or their jobs disappeared?

MS: No, the Taliban are allowing women to work. But those women who are working in higher positions in the government, they lost their jobs because Taliban members replaced them. And then some businesses that were employing women, they reduced the number of staff or they closed. And some businesswomen who were employing other women, they left the country and then their businesses were closed. So different situations.

RG: I know you can’t answer for everybody in the country. But if people had known last summer when the U.S. withdrew, or were driven out, that the U.S. would also seize all of the central bank assets and basically shut down the Afghan economy and create these famine conditions how would people have responded? Would people rather have the night raids and the bombings and the war with a functioning economy? Or do they prefer the relative peace and security, while so many are fleeing and starving to death? Or is it just an absurd question, because people are just fleeing, and so the answer is neither?

MS: There is an answer, actually. The answer is the people will be divided to answer this question into people in the cities, and to people in the rural areas.

So the people and rural areas who are mostly working in agriculture, but because of the war, and fighting, and the nitrates, and the bombings, they were not having a good life and they were being killed, they were not able to work properly in their farms, those people are happy. They are happy that the war is over and they can work freely and that they are not losing their relatives or family members.

But in the cities, at that time, the fighting was not in the cities. Peace in the cities to some degree, and then people had jobs, and they had freedom, and they had freedom of speech, and a lot of other things. And they lost it. They lost their jobs. And some of them, or most of them, I can’t tell what percentage, but they would rather have the war and jobs. So it’s difficult to answer. Because even in the city, there are some people who are not satisfied with the current situation, with economic challenges. But then there are some who are happy because of the security and the peace that’s there.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: There was also news recently that the Taliban is now ordering women to cover head to toe. How was that received? And is it being followed? There was a little bit of news of some small protests here and there. What’s been the fallout from that announcement?

MS: So yeah, there were some small protests in the capital city of Kabul. This new announcement, it’s not enforced yet. So people of Afghanistan, the women, they normally observe hijab. So it doesn’t make a difference for most people. So, the face covering, the burqa, is not compulsory. The burqa is part of the Afghan society, but it’s not compulsory. But the other hijab, it’s open for some interpretation, because it says that the normal or the customary hijab, is also considered a hijab with a head covering. But it says that, in some cases, when a woman who is not too young, and are not old, if she faces a stranger, and if there is some temptation, so according to the Sharia law, they have to cover their faces except their eyes.

So this is vague. But still, there is some reaction from some women and on social media, and in Kabul city.

RG: So when the Taliban rolled this out, what was their explanation for why this was necessary at this point? And does it conflict with anything that they had said when they were coming back into power and claiming to be a kind of reformed Taliban?

MS: So they are saying that Afghanistan is an Islamic country, the entire population of Afghanistan are Muslim, and hijab is a part of the Islamic law and the Islamic religion?

RG: I guess what I’m getting at is it an indication of which factions within the Taliban are winning the internal battles for control?

MS: Well, we don’t know, actually, who is winning and there is not a lot of fighting going on among. The public doesn’t know what’s going on. But there are the two factions, but they always say that we are one, and we don’t have any dispute or we do not disagree on anything.

So we really don’t know who is winning and who is losing. Because the government that was formed in September is still the same government, the same people are running the government, the same ministers, the Prime Minister is the same, the leader is the same, nothing has changed.

RG: And the U.S, hasn’t really offered any serious explanation for why it is creating so much death and misery in Afghanistan. But often, the rationale is that these types of approaches to a country will get the people to then be angry at the government. And so it’s a way to weaken the government. What are people’s attitudes toward the Taliban at this point? And is the suffering kind of redounding against them?

MS: Well, you know, the people are not blaming just the Taliban for the suffering. They blame the U.S., they blame the former government, they blame the Taliban as well, so that they all, Taliban, are part of this.

So there are some things that people like about the Taliban: They put an end to the war, they put an end to the corruption in the past, and to the bombings, to the airstrikes, and these things. There are just some things that people don’t like about the Taliban, like they are not allowing all the girls to go to school. They are just allowing girls from grade one to grade six, and then they are allowing girls to go to universities, but the girls from grade 7 to grade 12 are not yet allowed to go to school. So people are angry about this. And also about inclusivity. And women, that’s also an issue.

RG: There have also been reports of some attacks from ISIL against some Shia sites of worship. Where have those been happening? And are those creating any environment of fear or insecurity or have these been pretty isolated events?

MS: Well, in the month of Ramadan, there were some attacks in Kabul, like two, three, and one Kunduz, which killed around 50 or something Shia people. But recently, it’s quiet right now. We haven’t seen anything lately. So in the last month, yes, there were some attacks, but it’s not everywhere. There are just some isolated attacks by ISIS and the Taliban are trying to fight them, and find them, and they are arresting them.

RG: So if you had to talk about what the Afghan economy is, at this point, what would you say is the kind of industry that the society is based on? And if it’s in the agricultural sector, is it starting to come back at all?

MS: Well, the economy of Afghanistan relies mostly on agriculture. But then on services. Agriculture is also, we had a drought last year. And this year also, we haven’t seen much precipitation. And we didn’t have a lot of snow. So we fear we might have a drought this year as well, which will affect the people and the economy. So even the United Nations reports also fearing a drought and a bad economic situation, because of a drought. And the services sector is also affected, because there is less liquidity, and less money, and most of the businesses, they are not making enough money to survive, and some of them are closing.

RG: What effect has the war in Ukraine, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, had?

MS: Well, until now, it has not had a significant impact. But there is fears that maybe because Afghanistan has a shortage of food, and wheat, and these commodities that we are importing from countries like Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries — Ukraine is one of the big exporters of wheat so there are fears that there may be a shortage of food commodities, and then this will affect Afghanistan. Because the agriculture of Afghanistan is not self-reliant, and there is still a shortage, and the food price might increase. So that’s the fear about the war in Ukraine.

And also the fuel prices.

RG: Oh, yeah. How are the fuel prices?

MS: Yeah, the fuel prices have gone up dramatically since last year. And some of the commodities, the prices came down a little bit, but the fuel prices, they did not come down. They’re still high.

RG: There were some hints that China was looking to get more closely involved with Afghanistan, now that the U.S. had left. Have those overtures led to anything?

MS: Well, there are some Chinese businesses. I see them, they come here, and they are looking to do business with Afghans, to work in the mining industry, and other industries.

So we haven’t seen anything big yet. But maybe in the future, because they are still working and politically, they are close with the government. Chinese are close with them. But they haven’t said anything about the recognition. So I think all the countries are waiting for the United States to recognize the new government. So then every other country will recognize it, even with China.

RG: Is there any hope among the public that that’s going to happen at some point relatively soon? Or are people just resigned to just living this life until something changes?

MS: Well, there is hope that the U.S. will recognize the government, because if they do not recognize it, everybody fears that something really bad will happen to Afghanistan, and even the Taliban are hoping that the U.S. will recognize even the lower rank. They hope that the U.S. will recognize and normalize the relationship with Afghanistan, because even after the war with the Soviets, the U.S. during the war was helping the Afghans.

But after the war, they just left Afghanistan behind and they forgot about Afghanistan. And then there was a civil war, and then it became a sanctuary for terrorist organizations. So now, again, they hope that the U.S. will recognize so that the economic situation will stabilize and the relationship with the rest of the world will normalize so the economy will get better. And then we’ll become a country like other countries of the world.

RG: Given what you were saying about the crime and violence starting to spike in cities like Herat, how long do you think the Taliban could hold on under these conditions before they just buckle into a failed state and another civil war the way that the pattern played out in the 1990s?

MS: Well, I think they are good in controlling violence and in controlling security and in controlling these crimes. The number of crimes in Herat is not as much as there used to be before, like a year ago or a few years ago.

RG: So it’s up, but it’s not up to where it was even before.

MS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

RG: U.S. occupation. I see.

MS: Exactly.

RG: So in other words, Afghanistan could push ahead in this dire situation, it seems like, for a very long time, with people just continuing to flee, but not really affecting the stability of the government.

MS: Yeah. But also, you know, in some parts of the north in Afghanistan, I don’t know, actually, because I haven’t been there, like in social media, I can see people are talking about some fighting [indistinct]. They sometimes attack the Taliban, or sometimes they plant IEDs, but I haven’t been there. So I don’t know.

RG: And something like more than 1 million Afghan refugees have fled to Iran. And I’m wondering if you have any sense of what the effect has been inside Iran, because part of me, as I work backwards from this, I start to wonder: Well, let’s look at who’s benefiting and who’s suffering from this. I would imagine that there are some operatives within the U.S. government who see a weakening of Iran as a benefit of this situation.

MS: You mean Iran is weakened by the refugees?

RG: In the same way that, say, Europe was destabilized in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis?

MS: Mmm.

RG: That maybe they suspect that Iran would be destabilized by an Afghan refugee crisis?

MS: Maybe. I don’t know. Because the refugees who are in Iran, they’re just hoping that they will get out of Iran and go to European countries. And because in Iran, the Afghan refugees, they are treated very badly by the Iranian regime and by the Iranian people. So they have a very miserable situation there as well.

RG: So they’re hoping that it will be some type of way station to get into Europe?

MS: Yes. Yes. Yes.

RG: Do you have a sense of how many are successfully making that journey?

MS: Well, it’s a very difficult job. They have to illegally cross the border to Turkey, and most of them get caught by the Iranian police. And then they are deported back to Afghanistan. So very few of them succeed. Most of them — they fail.

RG: Right, because once they’re in Turkey, do they cross the Mediterranean? Or are they going through Eastern Europe?

MS: Yeah, I think they are crossing the Mediterranean Sea and to Greece, and then to the Eastern Europe.

RG: So what do you see for Afghanistan this spring and summer?

MS: Well, recently, there was news about a decision by the Taliban government that they will have a high council or grand assembly about the future of Afghanistan, about the future government of Afghanistan. So that announcement and that decision raised some hope about the future of Afghanistan.

So I think if something like that happens, you know in the past we had the Loya Jirga, which is like a grand council representing all the people of Afghanistan. So if something that happens, and they come up with a constitution, and decide on an inclusive government, then there will be some hope for the future of Afghanistan. And if the system stays the same sort of situation, I don’t know how it will improve.

RG: And so this Loya Jirga type of conference, could that be a way in for the United States to say: OK, this is enough for us. Is that the hope?

MS: Yeah, I think so. Because the United States and the international community, they are saying that they expect the Taliban to include other other parts of the society, in the politics, in the government, and also allow all the girls to go to school and have a government that is acceptable to all the people of this country. So if that happens, then there’ll be no reasons for the international community in the United States not to recognize Afghanistan and the government.

RG: So how are Kandahar and Helmand? You said you recently traveled there. What did you see there?

MS: Well, we went there at the end of April. It was Eid, which is a Muslim holiday, a religious holiday. And I traveled there with some American reporters and filmmakers to Kandahar.

We went there to cover the Eid prayer which was a very big ceremony, and the leader of the Taliban came, in a surprise public appearance. We were there. But the cameras, the reporters, were not allowed to get close to him to see him or to film him. But he appeared there. The people who were inside the mosque saw him. And he led the prayer. He had a message. And also the situation there in Kandahar, the security was very good. Because when we went into the mosque, there was no searching of the people. Everybody could go freely. Even though the leader was coming.

RG: Oh, wow. We don’t do that here in the United States.

MS: You don’t? [Laughs.]

RG: No, just to get into the capital or anything else — to get onto an airplane, in fact, you have to go through metal detectors here.

MS: Yeah, but nothing was there. So everybody could go there without getting searched, which was something new.

And also we traveled to Helmand, to Garmsir, you must have heard of Garmsir, which is a very big stronghold of the Taliban. And we were driving to the roads there for hours.

And the security was very good there. And the American reporters and journalists, they were treated very well by the people, and by the members of the Taliban. So this was really interesting.

RG: Were the journalists surprised by this? Was it different than their previous trips through the region?

MS: Well, yes, they said it was different from before, because during the American invasion, they had traveled, but they were embedded with American Marine Forces. And they never went out of the bases without security. But now they were among the people and talking to the people, talking to the members of the Taliban.

RG: Did they say it changed anything about what they thought about the region or the conflict of the country? Getting to actually speak freely to people?

MS: Yes, yes. They freely said to the people, for example, I was here 10 years ago, I was with the Marines, and I was making reports about the war. And now I’m here again to see what’s the difference, and whether people are happy that the Americans have left and these kinds of things. They were speaking freely with the people.

RG: Mhmm. Well how’s the economic situation in Kandahar and Helmand, compared to Kabul?

MS: Kandahar’s situation seemed better than Kabul. Because in Kandahar, you could hardly see many beggars on the streets. But in Kabul, there are so many. If you drive through the streets, every minute you will see a few beggars asking for help, asking for money.

RG: What do you think explains it? Is it that the NGO economy had just so completely cratered in Kabul, and there was less of that Western economy in Kandahar to begin with? Or why do you think Kandahar has weathered this collapse better than Kabul?

MS: I think in Kabul, there were a lot of businesses, NGOs and other organizations where people used to work and they were employed, and so many of them closed. A lot of people lost jobs, and there was a lot of construction going on. And now it’s not going on.

But Kandahar is a border city. It has a border with Pakistan and it has a lot of trade going on there. So people are busy with trading and smuggling and this kind of business, and they are still making money on the border.

RG: Gotcha. It makes sense. Great.

Well, Masood, thanks again for joining me.

MS: You’re welcome, Ryan. Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

[Credits music.]

RG: That was Masood Shnizai. And that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Laura Flynn is our supervising producer. The show was mixed by William Stanton. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

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