Retirees in Economic Catastrophe: From Government Employment to Begging
By: Amin Kawa
For almost eighteen months, since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, workers who had devoted their careers to promoting good governance, constructing infrastructure, defending territorial integrity, and protecting the country have been struggling to breathe and suffering in anguish. The Taliban have been met with lamenting and grief–filled voices as retirees have been unable to access their pensions during this time. Everyone feels sympathetic when they encounter retirees who are suffering from a lack of access to their retirements. As the Taliban regained control, the retirees have repeatedly requested payment from the Public Directorate of Retirements, but they have been told that payment would not be made until a later time. They have protested in front of the UN office in Kabul and asked the organization to help them survive the upcoming winter. Approximately 6,000 retired officers have not received their retirement salaries for at least two years, and some have been forced to resort to begging in public.
On Saturday, February 18, the retirees marched in front of the United Nations office in Kabul to demand their salaries, which they claim have been withheld for the past three years. In an interview with Hasht–e–Subh, one of the protesters stated, “The Taliban have not signed anything in two years. Every day, they have an excuse. They do not understand that we are struggling to survive in this cold winter. They treat us as if we are not entitled to our retirement salaries. We would rather die than continue to live in poverty.”
Mohammad Ishaq (a pseudonym) has been retired for five years, and he has not been able to support himself since the Taliban takeover. In a conversation with Hasht–e–Subh, Ishaq stated that retirement salaries are not paid from the government budget, but rather are deducted from the monthly salary of the workers. He argued that, in the interest of justice, retirees should receive their retirement salaries. Ishaq went on to explain that retirees have nothing but their retirement salaries, and that retirement is a difficult and hopeless age. He expressed his disappointment that the Taliban appear to be unconcerned about the elderly retirees, despite their dedicated service to the government, people, and country. Ishaq concluded that, had they received a bribe, they would have been wealthy.
Asefa is one of the teachers who has spent their entire career in the school‘s classrooms. In a discussion with Hasht–e–Subh, she stated: “I retired when the republic was on the brink of collapse. I had submitted my retirement papers to the Ministry of Education, but they were not completed when the government fell. It has been two years since I have not received any response from them. What else does a retired teacher have besides their retirement salary? There are many retired teachers like me here who have not been paid.”
Shamsia (pseudonym), whose husband had been a military officer in the Ministry of Defense during the Republic, informed Hasht–e–Subh that her husband had been killed three years ago. She had been able to progress her husband‘s retirement documents to a certain extent in the Republic, but the Taliban had not yet provided her with sufficient details regarding the retirement paperwork. Shamsia stated: “My husband was an officer at the Gardez Province Air Base, where he worked for 10 years. After his death, I was instructed by his commander to complete his retirement documents. As I was instructed, I compiled all the necessary documents, which took 11 months. When the documents reached the Retirement Directorate, the government had already collapsed. After the collapse, I was fearful and did not continue the process for three months following the Taliban takeover. However, when I enquired with the directorate’s personnel, they informed me that everything was uncertain.”
Mohammad Shukran, a 65–year–old retired man, recently spoke to Hasht–e–Subh about his current living conditions. He has not received his retirement salary for the past two years, leaving him in a state of poverty. He stated, “We have never been involved in politics and have always fulfilled our duties. I am now facing a great deal of economic hardship, as I am responsible for a family of six people and have no idea how we will survive this cold winter. Food is expensive and I cannot even afford to buy potatoes. I do not know what to do or say next.” Shukran went on to say, “I have gone to the Retirement Directorate multiple times, but have not received a satisfactory response. The Taliban view us as enemies, so we ask you to inform the UN of our dire living conditions.”
Junaidullah Balkhi (a pseudonym), a retired employee, states that he has devoted his entire life to improving agricultural services. He has requested that his true identity not be revealed in this interview. He goes on to explain, “I had to sell some of my possessions at a discounted price early in the morning in order to purchase food. This is the reality for a retired ex–government employee when their pension is not paid. If the Taliban wish to govern, they should not be discriminatory as all retired employees have the right to receive their salary.”
In the meantime, videos have been posted on social media which criticize the terrible situations and economic challenges faced by retirees. One of the videos, filmed in a hand–held format, shows a man claiming to be begging since the Taliban took control. He states that he used to work in the Ministry of Industry and Commerce and received 27000 AFN annually as his salary at retirement. Another video has also been publicly disclosed, showing a man with bleeding hands, bursting eyes and a voice deep with sorrow. He claims to have been a military officer who stayed loyal over his 30 years of service, and states that he would not have to gather trash today if he had taken bribes during his service. He further states that the Taliban have failed to fulfill the demands of the people, and that he goes to the Retirement Directorate to ask for his annual retirement salary when he finds some money.
In the video, Dawood, a retired laborer who has worked for the Kabul Municipality for the past 30 years, is seen crying. He states that he has been asking people for money without his family‘s knowledge, earning as much as 10 or 20 AFN. Through his tears and labored breathing, he implores the Taliban to pay his retirement salary.
The retirees in Kabul and several provinces have protested and requested their retirement payments from the Taliban, however, the Taliban have consistently responded to their objections and demands by stating that they have sent a letter to their leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada. It is still uncertain what decision the Taliban leader has made in this matter, so the retirees have shifted their focus to Kandahar, where some have asked for relief from extreme poverty, hunger, and cold weather. Some of the retirees are currently working low–wage jobs this winter and are still the primary breadwinners of their families. Meanwhile, the retirees are adamant that they are not asking for charity from the Taliban, but rather their annual payments, which were collected in their subsistence funds and deposited in the Treasury.
The Taliban Ministry of Finance has previously declared that the pension scheme has been finalized and submitted to Kandahar to receive a directive from the group‘s leader, Mullah Hibatullah Akhundzada. Furthermore, the ministry has stated that it has allocated four billion Afghanis in the budget to pay for retirees, who will receive their retirement salaries through banks across Afghanistan.
The Taliban Ministry of Finance has reported that 10,584 women are among the 150,000 registered retired employees. The pension plan has been sent to the Taliban leader in Kandahar and is said to have been approved by the cabinet. It is uncertain whether the Taliban leader will issue a payment order for the retired, who will have to take further steps to receive their salaries and sustain their livelihood.