Fleeing Afghans sell wares at Kabul’s busy flea markets

KABUL: Buyers browse second-hand household items for sale at a market in the northwest neighborhood of Khair Khana in Kabul.-AFP

KABUL: Kabul’s flea markets are packed with the belongings that desperate Afghans have sold at rock-bottom prices to fund their escape from Taleban rule, or just to pay for food. Plates, glasses, and kitchen appliances are piled high on makeshift tables at the outdoor bazaars, alongside 1990s television sets and old Singer sewing machines, while rolled-up carpets are propped up on second-hand sofas and beds.

Since the Taleban stormed to power in mid-August, Afghans say job opportunities have dried up and they are only allowed to withdraw $200 per week from their bank accounts, meaning cash is in short supply. “We don’t have anything to eat, we are poor and we are forced to sell these things,” said Mohammad Ehsan, who lives in one of Kabul’s hillside settlements and came to the bazaar lugging two blankets to sell. Ehsan said he used to work as a laborer, but building projects have been cancelled or put on hold.

“Rich people were in Kabul, but now everybody has escaped,” he said. He is one of many Afghans who come to the flea markets to sell what they can spare directly to buyers, carrying their possessions on their backs or rolling them along on rickety street carts. He has lived through “change after change” in Afghanistan, and says he is wary of the Taleban’s claims of peace and prosperity, as basic food prices skyrocket-like they did when the Taleban were last in power from 1996 to 2001.

“You can’t believe any of them,” Ehsan said. Impoverished Afghanistan was already facing a drought, food shortages, and enormous pressure on its health service caused by the COVID-19 outbreak before the Taleban took control, sparking western nations to clamp down on aid that props up the Afghan economy. The United Nations Development Programme warned last week that the percentage of people living under the poverty line could rise from 72 percent to 97 percent by the middle of next year, without rapid action.

‘Helpless and poor’
Further into the bazaar, people work to repair electrical goods such as stereos, fans and washing machines before selling them on. Teenage boys press carrot or pomegranate juice on mobile stalls, while others weave through the crowds with bananas, potatoes and eggs in wheelbarrows. Ragmen-the shopkeepers who buy and sell used goods-said they have never been so busy. Mostafa, speaking from his shipping container that serves as his shop, told AFP that many people he had bought from were travelling to the borders in hope of leaving the country.

“In the past, we would buy stuff from one or two households in a week. Now, if you have a big shop you can have the contents of 30 households at once. People are helpless and poor,” he told AFP. “They sell their stuff that is worth $6,000 for about $2,000,” he added. Mostafa, who said he has no plans to leave, said buyers at his shop were often those who had fled rural provinces for the safety of the capital when the Taleban launched their sweeping offensive.

Another ragman, who did not want to be named for fear of his safety, told AFP he had only set up his stall in recent weeks. “I was a trainer in the military for 13 years,” he said, adding he lives in fear of the Taleban as a consequence. “Unfortunately, our society got turned upside down, so we were forced to do other things. “I became a ragman-we had no other option,” he said. – AFP

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