Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bread and Politics: Taliban Lets UN Food Program Stew ; Tomorrow Is the Deadline for an Agreement on Whether There Will Be a Survey of the Needy in Afghanistan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bread and Politics: Taliban Lets UN Food Program Stew ; Tomorrow Is the Deadline for an Agreement on Whether There Will Be a Survey of the Needy in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

Fourth-generation baker Safiullah Karim pulls 30 steaming loaves of bread from the clay oven and replaces them with another 30 lumps of raw dough. He's been at this routine since before sunrise, churning out the rounds that are the only food some Afghans can afford to eat these days.

But as busy as Mr. Karim is, he is afraid for his job. The United Nations World Food Program has set tomorrow as the deadline for Afghanistan's ruling Taliban to agree to a new survey in Kabul, the capital, to determine who is eligible to receive subsidized bread. Without an agreement, the WFP says it will close more than 100 bakeries it supports in Kabul - a city of 1 million, where more than a quarter of the population depends on the discounted bread.

"It's a bad sign," says Karim. The issue does not affect the future of subsidized bakeries like his, outside Kabul, just yet. But "if there's a problem in Kabul today," he continues, "there could be problems in other parts of Afghanistan tomorrow."

Since attention was focused on Afghanistan in March, when the Taliban destroyed two Buddhist statues deemed objects of idolatry, the relationship between the Taliban and the international community has become increasingly tense. Three weeks ago the Taliban said that Hindus must wear identifying symbols so their minority would be protected. Female aid workers have been prohibited from driving cars. Last week, to protect Islamic society, the Taliban ordered foreigners to abide by prohibitions on consumption of alcohol and pork, loud music, and gender mixing.

"The Taliban are hardening up because they see themselves cornered by the outside world," a senior Western diplomat in Afghanistan says on condition of anonymity. "They see the West as an enemy. The Taliban can hardly do much about the Western world, so they're taking on whatever they see as a sign of Western representation in Afghanistan."

That assessment follows the UN's toughest anti-Taliban sanctions, which were imposed in late January for the regime's refusal to hand over Osama bin Laden, the Saudi national who lives in Afghanistan and is wanted by the US in connection with the 1998 bombings at two US embassies in East Africa. …

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