Gripes over high prices as Afghanistan begins Ramadan

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An Afghan vendor watches over his market stall ahead of Ramadan in Kabul on May 5, 2019. (AFP / WAKIL KOHSAR)
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ied fruit vendors wait for customers on the first day of the holy month of Ramadan in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 6, 2019. (REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail)
Updated 07 May 2019

Gripes over high prices as Afghanistan begins Ramadan

  • Inequality increasing despite billions in aid
  • Taliban rejects calls for Ramadan truce

KABUL: Mohammed Gul walked past a row of hawkers in a bustling Kabul street, nodding in dismay whenever he discussed the cost of fruit and vegetables with the people who were selling them. The prices had skyrocketed with the arrival of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.

“Do you, as Muslims, have to increase the prices by 10, 15 and 25 percent because of Ramadan?” he demanded to know, his patience running out, even as some traders tried to convince him otherwise.

One hawker pointed the finger at wholesale traders for the hike in prices. “Uncle, I am a poor man myself and know how you feel, we are not responsible for the increase,” a hawker named Zabihullah told Gul, a 56-year-old civil servant. “The businessmen who are involved in exports and imports or bring the goods to main markets set the price.”

Other shoppers were also cross about price hikes in Ramadan, recalling what their relatives overseas had told them about some supermarkets and shops even lowering prices during the holy month.

“Ramadan is the month of blessings, forgiveness and time to help the poor and each other,” a shopper named Hakimullah told Arab News. “But in Afghanistan these traders are so greedy and not fearing God and put the prices up for their own interest.”

He said the government, which is locked in a war with the Taliban and beset by internal rifts, was not monitoring market prices. Officials at the Ministry of Commerce would not say if the government had any mechanism in place to control costs. Municipal authorities tasked with monitoring prices were nowhere to be seen in any of Kabul’s major markets on Monday.

Another trader said a reason for the price increase was the devaluation of the local currency, the Afghani. But shoppers disagreed, saying that prices rose every time Ramadan began.

Wealthier Afghans faced no such obstacles, with some even importing their goods from Australia, France and Turkey.

The gap between the rich and poor is increasing in Afghanistan, despite the flow of hundreds of billions of foreign aid since the Taliban’s ouster.

President Ashraf Ghani, in his Ramadan message, urged people to show solidarity and help the needy ones.

He also repeated his call for a truce with the Taliban as proposed by a recent grand assembly, or loya jirga. But the militants have rejected the proposal.

Government officials and Taliban spokesmen have reported clashes and raids in various parts of the country, resulting in casualties on both sides.

The Taliban accused Afghan and US-led troops of killing civilians overnight in several areas during night-time operations. There was no immediate comment from the government about the Taliban's claims.

The armed group has said it will continue to fight until foreign troops leave the country.

Post-Brexit talks gear up for fish fight between EU, UK

Updated 29 January 2020

Post-Brexit talks gear up for fish fight between EU, UK

  • Industry and financial services are much more important in economic terms
  • Every coastal member state wanted to catch as many fish as possible, despite dwindling stocks and scientific warnings

KILKEEL, Northern Ireland: When it comes to UK-European Union relations, there’s nothing like slapping a fish around. After all, both sides have been contesting who rules their waves practically since the United Kingdom became a member in 1973.
So it’s not so surprising that once the United Kingdom officially leaves the EU on Friday night, one of the first things the two sides will wrestle over during negotiations on their post-divorce relationship is the comparatively tiny fisheries industry.
“Perhaps in many ways, fisheries is the acid test of Brexit,” said British politician and leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage.
Industry and financial services are much more important in economic terms. But somehow fish and chips in Britain and sole meuniere on the continent stir much stronger emotions.
“For example, our car industry and chemicals industry alone are worth 20 times the value of the fishing industry.” said Chris Davies, an English Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament who is head of the EU’s fisheries committee until he leaves on Friday.
“It is much more important, of course, to the economy in Britain as a whole that we get access for those products,” Davies said.
That doesn’t ring right in Kilkeel, Northern Ireland, and other UK ports where resentment against EU fishing policies that allow vessels from other nations in the bloc to catch stocks in rich British waters runs deep.
“This fleet has been stymied now for, what, 30, 30-plus years in terms of fish being taken off us and given to other member states. It has been a struggle,” said Alan McCulla, CEO of the local ANIFPO fishing cooperative.
“Fishermen here have lost thousands of tons of fishing opportunities valued at millions of pounds,” McCulla said.
Brexiteers have thrived for years on similar words of perceived wrongdoing by faceless bureaucrats encroaching on age-old British sovereignty. And no one has done that more effectively than Farage, who has been driving the UK toward the EU’s exit door for decades, mostly from inside the European Parliament itself — where he served as a British MEP for over two decades.
Farage knows how the briny whiff of the sea tugs at the nation’s heartstrings.
“The greatness of Britain has always been what we’ve done on the seas, whether it’s through the Royal Navy or through our merchant fleets,” Farage said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So fisheries is actually — symbolically — very, very important.”
Farage led a flotilla of fishing boats up the River Thames to Britain’s Parliament in last-ditch campaigning before the Brexit referendum on June 23, 2016. It turned out that every bit helped, as Britain stunningly decided to leave the bloc with a narrow 52 percent-48 percent margin.
Fish in waters off Britain were still abundant in the 1970s and fishing towns still thrived.
But for just about the duration of Britain’s membership, stocks of North Sea cod to English Channel sole were in decline. And for British fishermen it was easy to point fingers at foreign vessels and EU headquarters in Brussels. Every coastal member state wanted to catch as many fish as possible, despite dwindling stocks and scientific warnings.
First, the EU forced boats to stay in ports and restricted quotas, limiting access to fish. And when British fishermen then saw EU boats in their shared waters, anger came naturally.
The broad promise of Brexit always was to regain control and there is a physical sense of control when a 200-nautical mile zone is set for the UK, instead of the current 12 miles.
“The UK should determine what level of access from EU boats is allowed in. It shouldn’t be a free-for-all just because they’ve been there for years and years. The rules have changed, and we’re taking back control of our own waters,” said Brian Chambers, who owns the “Boy Paul” with his brother and mainly fishes off the coast of Ireland and the Isle of Man for crab and scallops. He voted “leave.”
Farage says Brexit could make sure boom years lie ahead for Britain’s workforce of 8,000 fishermen that nets just under €1 billion ($1.1 billion) worth of annual catches.
“If we get fisheries right, we will bring tens of thousands of jobs back to our coastal communities,” he said.
However, the EU has already made it clear negotiations won’t be that simple. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier’s office has already informed diplomats from the 27 member states that “reciprocal access to fishing waters and resources should be maintained.” That means pretty much looking for the status quo that UK fishermen hate so much.
And the EU can also play the history card.
“European vessels have been fishing in those waters forever. The Vikings would have dragged a net behind their longboats when they came over 1,000 years ago,” Davies, of the EU parliament fisheries committee, said.
“So, not surprisingly, the Dutch and the French and others are saying ‘we want this to continue, historically, it’s our right,’” he said.
Furthermore, while Britons may have their fish-rich waters, the EU has an even richer consumer market.
“British fishermen are going to have to accept that so long as they are selling 70% of all the fish they catch into the European continental market, their bargaining power is not that great,” Davies said.
Again, fishermen can already feel the squeeze. Even if they are revered and romanticized for being some of the last true hunters in Europe, many have long been squeezed out economically. As fish needed to be protected, they felt the politicians didn’t protect them. The promise of Brexit gave them a new hope, but now the realities of hard-nosed negotiations set in.
The fear is that their desire to get better ownership of their fishing grounds might just become the merest of pawns in the talks between both sides.
McCulla of the ANIFPO cooperative is trying to look at the bright side.
“I’ve no doubt that Europeans will still be able to fish in UK waters in the future,” he said. “But the important difference is that they will have to have that access under the terms of UK PLC, not under the terms of Brussels. And in the future Britannia will rule Britannia’s waves.”