Many international non-governmental organisations and services have stopped operating in Afghanistan after the Taliban gained complete control over the country in August 2013. They included payment services such as Swift and Western Union.
Many Afghans began to study cryptocurrencies and the underlying technology of blockchain to at least receive remittances abroad. Afghans are missing many opportunities in the world of online business because electronic payment services such as Venmo and PayPal have not been made available in their country of 5,000 years.
Heshmat Aswadi (a local crypto trader) said in an interview that “we lost many opportunities such as blogging, affiliate marketing, and online dropshipping” because most of the companies pay via PayPal. “I learned a lot about blog but it was useless since I couldn’t get paid online.
Aswadi, a 22-year-old student at Herat University, wanted to start a fintech blog. However, he lost his hope when he began researching how to get paid.
Later, he discovered about cryptocurrency “which was one the best things to happen to him,” said Aswadi. As the crypto industry grew, Aswadi was able to learn as he went. He trades digital assets in small amounts, which allows him to make extra money.
Aswadi stated that governments and banks, particularly those in developing countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, should consider digital currencies to be legal tender. He suggested that they could use at most a central bank’s digital currency.
“While there’s no need for the government to spend more money on a central banking digital currency project, they could still consider a CBDC if they don’t want decentralized assets.”
Money transfer services such as Swift and Western Union stopped operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban took power. This left many Afghans without an income source, who received money from relatives overseas. Cryptocurrency is the only way to get money from other countries.
During the crypto boom of 2021, Afghanistan was placed 20th out of 154 countries in Chainalysis 2021 Crypto Adoption Index.
Ali Rahnavard is a local cryptocurrency dealer and trader from Herat, which is one of the most populous cities in Afghanistan. He claims that he has seen a tremendous increase in the number Afghans who use cryptocurrencies. Rahnavard stated that the number of customers he had increased by “tenfolds” over the past year.
Rahnavard explained to Cointelegraph that the main reason for this growth was that people needed to find a means to receive money from family members and friends living in other countries.
Rahnavard claims that it is “much cheaper and quicker” than previous payment systems such as Western Union.
He has been trading for four years and also taught Afghans how to use and trade cryptocurrencies. If the Taliban government in Afghanistan decides to use crypto to allow e-commerce, this knowledge could be very useful.
“Crypto could open the door for the Taliban to return to international business.” He said that while the Taliban do not seem to have the knowledge necessary to use blockchain technology right now, they could at most help by not banning cryptocurrency.
What is the use of crypto in Afghanistan?
Binance announced in November 2021 that Swift bank transfers will no longer be supported for user accounts in countries such as Afghanistan. It was difficult to withdraw or deposit crypto from Binance as most people use it.
Customers can currently get crypto by going to a dealer’s shop to pay in local fiat currency (afghanis) or U.S. dollar.
To get cryptocurrency the dealer must contact an international person to send it to his wallet. To deposit the funds to the sender’s account, the dealer uses the Hawala system in his local area. Rahnavard says that dealers avoid credit and debit cards because they charge 11% to make international purchases.
The dealer asks for the customer’s wallet address, and then sends the crypto, mostly Tether ( UST).
Was crypto banned by the Taliban?
Still, the Taliban have not announced any bans or regulations regarding digital currency. Rahnavard stated that if a leading Islamic scholar declares crypto haram (forbidden), then the Taliban would ban it without thinking twice. He said that if they considered it permissible, “we might use all the best technology in the world forever.”
One of the biggest blocks on the way to crypto’s mass adoption in Afghanistan is the low literacy rate: Only 43% of Afghanistan’s population is literate and an even smaller number have regular access to the internet.
Cointelegraph was told anonymously by a crypto trader:
Cryptocurrencies may be our only hope and window to financial freedom. It’s difficult to teach everyone crypto, given all the difficulties we have in Afghanistan. But it’s not impossible.
They said, “What I love most about decentralization”
As they sought to alleviate the cash shortage created by US sanctions, the Taliban restricted bank account withdrawals when they assumed power. Millions of Afghans were unable to get food as a result. Many tried to sell their children, which resulted in international media coverage and opened the doors to donations.
Bookblocks.io launched a non-fungible token (NFT), project in September last year. It was partnered with the “Women for Afghan Women” organization. They created digital art to help the education of Afghan women as well as those arriving in the United States for refugee status.
“This generation grew up optimistic and dreaming about their future via educational opportunities,” Naheed Samadi Bhram, Women for Afghan Women’s U.S. Country Director. “We are committed in serving Afghan women and girls, as well as Afghan refugees who have arrived in the U.S.,”
Another social activist and entrepreneur, Fereshteh Forough, has Pact to Make a Difference.
“Young people can learn about computers and learn about Bitcoin. Everyone wants to know how to access Bitcoin. They must.”
Nothing has changed since August 2013, not even Afghanistan’s name, which was changed from Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (now the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan). Many NGOs fled the country, and many people lost their jobs. This led to a financial crisis, and even worse, starvation.
Some families lived on the only money they could get from abroad. But without cryptocurrencies, it’s nearly impossible to do so.
Rahnavard stated that crypto is a new technology, and other countries are interested in learning how to use it to their advantage. It’s different in Afghanistan. We need to be able to understand crypto and the underlying technology. If we don’t, then I don’t know what greater disaster can be expected.