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Western Union, MoneyGram resume services to Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: September 3, 2021)

Western Union Co and MoneyGram International Inc resumed money-transfer services to Afghanistan on Thursday, moves in line with a U.S. push to allow humanitarian activity to continue after the Taliban’s takeover, Reuters reported.

According to the report pair suspended services in Afghanistan more than two weeks ago after the Islamist militia captured Kabul at lightning speed.

But an easing of security concerns following the completion of the Taliban’s conquest of the country opened the way for the reopening this week of banks, which the money-transfer firms rely on to dispense and collect funds.

Jean Claude Farah, Western Union’s president in Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told Reuters the reopening of banks, plus a push by the United States to facilitate humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, had given the American company confidence to resume services on Thursday.

“Much of our business involving Afghanistan is low-value family and support remittances that support basic needs of the people there, so that’s the grounding that we have and why we want to reopen our business,” Farah said.

“We’ve engaged with the U.S. government, which has conveyed that allowing humanitarian activities, including remittances, to continue are consistent with U.S. policy.”

The flow of funds from migrant workers overseas is a key lifeline for many Afghans and has helped the economy of one of the world’s poorest nations weather years of violence and instability. The United Nations says about half of the population requires aid amid the second drought in four years, Reuters reported.

In a statement, MoneyGram said following guidance from the U.S. government, it was resuming its services in coordination with its partners in the country and the Afghanistan Banks Association.

“We recognize that remittances play a pivotal role in the livelihood and daily needs of the Afghan people,” MoneyGram said.

According to Reuters yet U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it is committed to allowing humanitarian work to continue in Afghanistan.

“We are continuing to engage with the U.S. government and others to understand their policies and what type of longer term regulatory framework will be put in place as it relates to the Taliban,” Western Union’s Farah said.

Remittances to Afghanistan reached $789 million in 2020, around 4% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), the World Bank estimated, down from $829 million in 2019.

Such flows have historically played an important role in supporting financial stability. Along with international grants and resilient exports, remittances helped Afghanistan’s current account surplus reach 14.2% of GDP in 2020, the International Monetary Fund said in June.

In recent days, Afghanistan’s central bank has provided funds of hundreds of thousands of dollars to each bank that requested liquidity, a senior banker told Reuters. But the financial system and economy could be in peril unless the Taliban can access the central bank’s roughly $10 billion in assets, which are mostly outside of the country.

Farah said Western Union had been assured by the banks it partners with in Afghanistan that they had sufficient cash to pay receivers of remittances.

“Some of them have indicated at some locations that they have good liquidity in afghani and at least some liquidity in U.S. dollars as well, we allow payouts in both, to resume remittances,” he added.

Before it shut down services on Aug. 16, around 45% of each transaction sent via Western Union to Afghanistan was $200 or less, he said.

Western Union said on Thursday that payouts of any funds sent to Afghanistan were available in select locations. Outbound services, money sent from there to other countries, remained suspended, it added.

Business

Central Bank says ATM to get operational in Afghanistan

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(Last Updated On: January 14, 2022)

Da Afghanistan Bank (Central Bank of Afghanistan), said Thursday, said that Automated Teller Machine (ATM) services by commercial banks will be resumed in the country.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Da Afghanistan Bank stated that the decision was made after a series of discussions with commercial banks and the union of banks of the country.

The ATM services of banks were stalled after the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) regained power on August 15 last year.

According to the statement, the ATMs will be available at specific locations for the customers.

“Da Afghanistan Bank is striving to return banking sector to normal and reactivating the ATMs is a good news [for people] and [Da Afghanistan Bank] is trying to bring further facilities to the people.” Reads the statement.

Da Afghanistan Bank, so far, has not disclosed the amount of money people can withdraw from the ATMs.

Currently, people can withdraw up to $400 from dollar-denominated accounts or 30,000 Afghanis a week from the previous limit of $200 or 20,000 Afghanis.

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Afghan carpetmakers raise concerns over shortage of wool due to smuggling

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(Last Updated On: January 14, 2022)

Afghanistan’s National Union of Carpet Manufacturers raised concerns on Thursday around the smuggling of woolen fleece from sheep into other countries, which has led to a shortage of the raw material for Afghan carpet weavers.

Afghan carpet producers said that farmers in Ghazni, Zabul, Farah, Kandahar, and Helmand provinces are harvesting the fleece and then smuggling it into other countries.

According to the union, they have as a result been forced to import Iraqi and Saudi yarn to use in the local carpet industry.

“Our (woollen) fleece is being smuggled to Pakistan and India, but we have to import yarn from Iraq and Saudi Arabia,” said Mohammad Naeemzada, on carpetmaker.

“The price of one square meter of carpet has increased by 600 AFN. Because we import yarn from other countries, due to smuggling of our own fleece,” said Noor Ahmad Noori, the head of the Afghan carpet producers union.

The Ministry of Finance (MoF) meanwhile said that they have also asked all customs offices at border points to clamp down on people exporting the raw material.

The spokesman for the MoF Ahmad Wali Haqmal said: “The Islamic Emirate needs time, the process [to prevent smuggling] needs time. We will solve the problems, and will prevent smuggling.”

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Uzbekistan restores electricity to Afghanistan after fixing power plant problem

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(Last Updated On: January 13, 2022)

Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS) said the electricity supply from Uzbekistan has returned to normal after output fell by 60% due to technical problems.

The power supply company said in a statement early Thursday that the problem at a power station in Uzbekistan has now been resolved and that electricity supply to Afghanistan has been restored.

Two days ago, Uzbekistan was forced to cut supply by 60%, which left large parts of Afghanistan without power.

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