Retirees in Afghanistan, who devoted their lives to different political systems in pursuit of improving people’s livelihoods and governance, are now weeping for a simple piece of bread. The haunting cries of their hunger afflict the hearts and minds of a society engulfed in crisis. Many of these veterans find themselves in destitution due to old age, illness, hunger, and enduring unemployment. Media outlets have broadcast numerous visual and auditory reports on the retirees’ living conditions since the Taliban assumed control, highlighting their deep despair and decline.
For over the past two years, the Taliban have failed to pay the retirees’ pensions, claiming that pension is not salary. Retirees insist that the payment of retirement benefits is their legal right, which has been deducted from their salaries during their service. They say they have repeatedly approached the Treasury and other relevant authorities, only to return home in despair, shedding tears over their empty dinner tables with hungry children. Retirees warn that if their situation is not addressed, the majority of them will perish during the upcoming winter.
The humanitarian and economic crisis in Afghanistan has cast a shadow over various aspects of citizens’ lives in the country. Many social groups claim that their suffering and sorrow have been overshadowed by the layers of this humanitarian crisis. Among them, the retirees of the country, who have not received their retirement pensions for over two years, are complaining about the severity of their hunger and challenging living conditions. They say they have been forgotten amidst multiple crises, and even aid organizations are not paying adequate attention to their needs.
Some retirees in the country state that they are suffering due to the poor economic situation. They emphasize that unemployment, illness, hunger, and the uncertainty of life have turned their existence into an open wound that torments their spirit and psyche every moment. According to them, while their retirement pensions do not cover the cost of living, this meager amount, if provided consistently, can save them from death.
Shakila (pseudonym) says she has now grown old, and no one lends her a helping hand. She clarifies that before the Taliban’s takeover, she used to spend her days with her husband’s retirement pension, but for the past two years, the means to continue her life have dwindled, leaving her in a difficult and bitter situation in her twilight years.
Dadullah, a retiree with over 40 years of service in various government agencies, retired about five months before the Taliban’s rise to power. He says, “No one is giving us charity; our money is being used and stored in the government treasury. We want our rights. They should return our own money to us.”
Abdulhai Khateebi, the former spokesman for the Ghor Province and a current retiree, has lodged a complaint on his Facebook page regarding the non-payment of retirees’ pensions. He writes that retirees lack the physical ability to work and are in need of a piece of dry bread and a tablet. He adds that in the old days, being a government employee was an honor and was titled “Khan,” but now “Khan has been replaced by beggary and hunger.”
On the other hand, video clips of retirees have surfaced on social media, depicting some of them complaining about extreme poverty and hunger, even resorting to selling their children. These retirees say that due to unemployment and destitution, they have been forced to beg. They emphasize that deductions were made from their salaries during their service to meet their essential needs in old age, but the Taliban are depriving them of their legal rights by not paying their pensions.
According to reports, there are currently approximately 150,000 retirees in the country, with 10,586 of them being women and the rest men. The Retirees Association of Afghanistan has also stated that 92,254 of these retirees are former civil servants, and 56,627 of them are former security personnel.
These retirees are complaining about the non-payment of their pensions at a time when the Taliban regime has had varying positions on them over the past two years. The Ministry of Finance, under the control of the Taliban, previously stated that four billion Afghanis had been allocated for retirees’ pensions in this year’s budget and that their demands had been discussed with the group’s leadership. However, the Taliban’s cabinet, in its decision on March 2023, stated that pensions are not considered as salary.
In their cabinet decision, it has been stated, “It is decided that pensions and disability benefits will not be considered as salaries, but all Emirate departments can officially employ those retirees who are capable of working temporarily, and they can also hire disabled individuals.”
This comes as individuals with disabilities are also complaining about unemployment and destitution. One of the retirees, who became disabled due to a Taliban-triggered mine explosion, says, “I am facing various problems. I cannot walk, nor can I work. They do not provide me with the pension that is my legal right, and they come up with excuses every day. I have lost hope.”
This is happening while, according to the previous government’s labor law, the pensions of government employees are protected, and those in senior government positions are obligated to pay retirees their legal entitlements. However, the Taliban claim that pensions are not considered salary, and retirees who are capable of working should work. The Taliban make such statements in a situation where thousands of educated and skilled young people are unemployed. According to statistics from the Taliban’s Deputy Ministry of Youth Affairs, over one and a half million educated young people are unemployed in Afghanistan.
The country’s retirees have repeatedly staged protests in Kabul and some provinces over the past two years. They have demanded that the Taliban regime pay their pensions, but the authorities of this group have delegated the fate of retirees to the decision of their supreme leader. Currently, the eyes of retirees are fixed on Kandahar, and it remains unclear whether the Taliban supreme leader will pay attention to the situation of these retirees or not.
On the other hand, sources report that the head of the Retirees Association of Afghanistan with some retirees’ representatives have gone to Kandahar and are attempting to make their voices heard by the absent Taliban supreme leader, but it remains unclear whether they will succeed in this endeavor or not.
Investigating and addressing the situation of retirees’ benefits in the previous government was also one of the significant challenges. Misappropriation and embezzlement were allegations continually raised by the people and retirees against the former government. However, the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) announced that it had biometrically verified 80% of civilian and military retirees, which could help reduce fraud and corruption in agencies related to the retirement fund.