Afghanistan’s critical man in the middle
Afghanistan’s economy is in a mess. After the Taliban took back control of the country in August 2021, the US froze the central bank’s foreign reserves. Can an unassuming Afghan-American economist secure the release of these funds so that the economy can recover?
Whoever said central banking is boring hasn’t met Shah Mohammad Mehrabi.
In his 50 years working as an economist, Mehrabi’s time spent working with international central banks has been anything but dull.
A professor of economics at Montgomery College, Maryland in the US, his adopted country, Mehrabi has advised problematic regimes in Mexico, Sudan and Iran, all of which have had their moments.
But it is Mehrabi’s native Afghanistan that has proved most testing for him, not least in negotiating the many incarnations of its central bank, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB); its neglect under a failing monarchy, its seizure by the Soviet Union and, later, the US; its looting by marauding mullahs; and the manipulations of grifting warlords.
Mehrabi has been a member of the DAB’s supreme council since 2003, including the period since August 2021 when the latest Taliban regime overthrew Kabul’s Washington-installed government.
But despite Afghanistan’s many difficulties, Mehrabi continues in his quest to rebuild and improve, again and again, a technocratic financial system for his motherland that might sustain some semblance of stability.
Now, with the Taliban back in power in Kabul, 70-year-old Mehrabi’s most difficult days may be ahead of him: for he is a key conduit connecting the ruling members with an international community that is reluctant to recognize or engage with them.