Afghanistan hit by US sanctions against Iran

In this file photo, Iranian workers transfer goods from a cargo container to trucks at the Kalantari port in city of Chabahar on May 12, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 05 November 2018

Afghanistan hit by US sanctions against Iran

  • The effects of the sanctions are felt in Afghanistan’s western region particularly Herat, the country’s second largest city
  • Prices of basic foodstuffs, construction and raw materials have jumped as imports from Iran have ceased and traders are forced to supply them from other parts of the world, Saad Khatebi, the chief of Herat’s chambers of commerce told Arab News

KABUL: For years just after dawn, during harsh winters and hot summers, people would jostle to join the long line outside Iran’s embassy in Kabul to get a visa.
The rush prompted Tehran to impose restrictions for Afghan travelers, such as financial guarantees and return flight tickets.
It would take at least a week for the luckiest ones to get their visa approved, although there were hundreds of others who would enter the neighboring country through illegal and hazardous means overland.
They fled to Iran because of war, poverty, for a family reunion or used it as transit for making it to Turkey and beyond to Europe.
But US financial and economic sanctions on Iran in August have seen a dramatic drop in the numbers of Afghans wishing to travel to the Islamic republic.
Tehran has eased the visa restrictions to persuade Afghans wishing to go there, according to residents.
Afghans who used to go to Iran, legally or illegally for labor, are returning in big numbers as have some Afghan refugees who lived there for decades, because of the devaluation of Iran’s currency.
Afghanistan’s economy has also been suffering because Iran is a major trade partner, with billions of dollars of goods and fuel worth of imports coming from Tehran, according to traders.
The effects of the sanctions are felt in Afghanistan’s western region particularly Herat, the country’s second largest city.
“Unfortunately, the sanctions have had a direct impact in the western region both in terms of imports, exports and transit,” Saad Khatebi, the chief of Herat’s chambers of commerce told Arab News by phone.
Prices of basic foodstuffs, construction and raw materials have jumped as imports from Iran have ceased and traders are forced to supply them from other parts of the world, he said.
For a while, the sanctions became a business opportunity for some Afghans in the western region since they could smuggle dollars in cash to Iran.
But civil society activist Waheed Paiman said Kabul, under pressure from the US for a month, has barred Afghans from withdrawing dollars from their bank accounts. They have to instead cash their dollars with Afghanis, the country’s currency that has been unstable because of political and security threats.
“This is a far more serious problem for the traders just because of the sanctions on Iran, they cannot withdraw their dollar deposits. People are concerned,” he told Arab News.
Khatebi said the sanctions, restrictions on dollar accounts, bullying by strongmen, the threat of criminal groups and the recent imposition of tax by the Taliban on goods in the western region, may force traders to leave Herat.
Some analysts said the sanctions may provoke Tehran to increase its alleged assistance for Taliban militants in their campaign against US military presence in Afghanistan.
The sanctions have also affected the flow of trade through Chabahar port in Iran which was established two years ago and allows landlocked Afghanistan to have sea access sea for imports and exports.
The Indian-backed port complex is still being developed as part of a new transportation corridor for land-locked Afghanistan that could potentially open the way for millions of dollars in trade and cut its dependence on Pakistan, its sometimes-hostile neighbor.
Ahmad Farhad Majidi, a lawmaker from Herat, said Afghans “hope that on the basis of their needs and constraints, the US will make Afghanistan an exception from its sanctions package.”
“Tens of our money dealers have gone bankrupt, factories have suffered, people have lost jobs and that in itself will have an impact on the security of Herat and the trust of the people,” he told Arab News.
Haroon Chakhansuri, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani, refused to comment on the impact of sanctions or restrictions Kabul has imposed on dollar deposits in Herat.
But he told Arab News that Ghani discussed the matter with a visiting top US State Department official on Sunday.


World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

Updated 15 min 27 sec ago

World’s biggest literature festival kicks off in Jaipur

  • Economist and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee will attend the event

JAIPUR: The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) started on Thursday.

 Known as the “greatest literary show on earth,” the five-day event brings to one venue more than 500 speakers of 15 Indian and 35 foreign languages, and over 30 nationalities.

 Among the festival’s participants are Nobel laureates and Pulitzer Prize winners.

 The event has been expanding, with over 400,000 people attending it last year and even more expected to show up this time.  The growing crowd has made the medieval Diggi Palace, which hosts it, look small, and organizers are planning to shift the event to a bigger venue next year.

 Scottish historian and writer William Dalrymple, one of the organizers, said: “The first time we came to the Diggi Palace in 2007, 16 people turned up for the session of which 10 were Japanese tourists who walked out after 10 minutes, as they had come to the wrong place. Things have improved a little since then. We are now formally the largest literature festival in the world.”

 Dalrymple, who has extensively written on medieval India and South Asia, has played a pivotal role in promoting the festival.

 The other two organizers are its director, Sanjoy K. Roy, and writer Namita Gokhale, who along with Dalrymple made the JLF become one of the most sought-after events in India.

 “Why has the literary festival taken off in this country in this extraordinary way? It goes back to the tradition of spoken literature, the celebration of literature orally through the spoken word has deep roots in this country,” Dalrymple said.

 “So the idea that a literary festival is a foreign import is something that can’t be maintained. We’ve tapped into something very deep here. Literature is alive and is loved in India,” he said.

 Inaugurating the festival’s 13th edition, celebrated British mathematician Marcus du Sautoy said: “Every number has its own particular character in the story of mathematics. For me it is 13; 13 is a prime number, an indivisible number, and the JLF is certainly a festival in its prime.”

 The festival this year is taking place amid a raging debate about India’s new citizenship legislation and mass agitation on the issue of preserving the secular fabric of the nation.

 Reflecting on the prevailing mood in the country, Roy, in his opening remarks, said: “We are now faced with a situation where we see a spread of the narrative of hatred. Literature is the one thing that can push back against it and so can be the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so and this is not the time to be silent anymore.”

 Gokhale said: “Ever since its inception 13 years ago, we at the Jaipur Literary Festival have tried to give a voice to our plural and multilingual culture. We live in a nation which is defined by its diversity, and it is our effort to present a range of perspectives, opinions, and points of view, which together build up a cross-section of current thinking.”

 She added: “We seek mutual respect and understanding in our panels — it is important to us that these often conflicting ideas are respectfully presented and heard. We also resist predictable and self-important all-male panels, and try to ensure that the vital voices of women resonate through all aspects of our programming.”

 One of the attractions of the event this year is the presence of Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, who won the prize in economics last year.

 There are also panel discussions on Kashmir, the Indian constitution and history.

 The prevailing political situation in South Asia is also reflected by the absence of Pakistani. Before, popular Pakistani authors would attend the JLF, but delays in visa issuance and a hostile domestic environment forced the organizers to “desist from extending invitations.”