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Taliban Unveil Plan to Turn Former Foreign Military Bases Into 'Special Economic Zones'

FILE - A hangar can be seen behind barbed wire fencing at Bagram Air Base after the U.S. military left the facility, in Parwan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021.
FILE - A hangar can be seen behind barbed wire fencing at Bagram Air Base after the U.S. military left the facility, in Parwan province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021.

The Taliban said Sunday they were working to turn former foreign military bases in Afghanistan into special business and trade centers to promote “economic growth and development” in the war-ravaged country.

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban deputy prime minister for economic affairs, chaired a meeting in the capital, Kabul, and directed relevant officials to move ahead with the plans, his office said.

“Following a thorough discussion, it was decided that the Ministry of Industry and Commerce should progressively take control of the remaining military bases of the foreign forces with the intention of converting them into special economic zones,” the statement said.

It went on to note, without sharing further details, “pilot operations” would begin to turn bases in Kabul and the northern Afghan province of Balkh.

“Yes, Bagram is among the military bases being converted into special economic zones under the plan unveiled today,” chief Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA when asked about the status of the sprawling former United States-run military facility.

Bagram, located some 70 kilometers north of Kabul, had for nearly 20 years served as the nerve center of the U.S. counterterrorism missions against al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan and military operations against the then-insurgent Taliban.

The former Soviet Union built the Bagram Air Base in 1950 and used it during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989.

The Taliban have struggled to improve the economy since storming back to power in August 2021 as the United States and NATO troops withdrew after almost two decades of war against the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies in Afghanistan.

The insurgent takeover of Afghanistan prompted the U.S. and other Western nations to cut off development funding for the largely aid-dependent Afghan economy. They also blocked the Afghan central bank’s access to its foreign-held assets, isolated the banking sector, and strictly enforced sanctions on Taliban leaders for their alleged links to terrorism.

The punitive actions pushed the Afghan economy to the brink and worsened an already bad humanitarian crisis, which stems from decades of war and prolonged drought in the poverty-stricken country.

Taliban officials, however, maintain that effective anti-corruption efforts and a focus on increasing investment and trade with regional as well as neighboring countries have enabled them to contain the downward economic slide.

Last month, the World Bank also delivered a surprisingly upbeat assessment of the Afghan economy in the first nine months of fiscal 2022, citing high exports, a stable exchange rate, and strong revenue collection under Taliban rule.

The international community has refused to grant legitimacy to the de facto rulers in Kabul, citing counterterrorism and human rights concerns.

The Taliban have imposed sweeping restrictions on Afghan women since returning to power. They have banned girls from attending schools beyond the sixth grade and barred women from most workplaces, including NGOs.

The ban on female aid workers has forced several major foreign charity organizations to partially suspend their operations in Afghanistan, where more than half of the estimated 40 million population need humanitarian assistance.