Taliban cleaned out coffers of the national bank

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The oldest bank in Afghanistan, Bank Millie Afghan, is one of the best protected buildings in Kabul: the guards at the main gate have a machine gun, a rocket launcher and a couple of Kalashnikovs at their disposal. But these precautions have lost their meaning, because the bank no longer has any money. It was all removed two weeks ago – by its own governor.

Details emerged yesterday of how the Taliban's leaders in Kabul comprehensively cleaned out the state's coffers before leaving for Kandahar. On the night of 12 November, 24 hours before they departed, the Taliban governor of the bank, Haji Mullah Mohammed Ahmadi, turned up with a posse of gunmen, unlocked the bank's strongroom and removed US$5.3m (£3.7m) and 22m Pakistani rupees (£250,000).

Mahmoud Sharif, deputy head of the bank's strongroom section, said yesterday: "He came with the key, opened the lock, took the money and locked it again.''

What remained were the stockpiles of Afghanis, the catastrophically devalued local currency, some 40,000 of which will buy $1. But they did not remain for long. Later that night another group of armed Taliban turned up, locked up two employees who were working late, shot and broke open padlocks to storerooms on the ground floor and hauled an immense volume of banknotes to the value of 18bn Afghanis out to pick-up trucks waiting outside. All they left behind were piles of worthless 100 and 500 Afghani notes.

It was the Bank Millie Afghan's coup de grâce. The bank has been haemorrhaging customers for years. Savings accounts were at the mercy of each plundering new regime during the turmoil of the last two decades, and stout boxes in the home were considered far more dependable.

The long corridors and lofty banking halls of the imposing 1930s building are shabby and neglected with paint flaking from the walls and hangdog employees skulking in corners. The bank's final period of prosperity was during the presidency of Mohammed Najibullah, Afghanistan's last communist leader. On 28 September 1996 the Taliban, after torturing and murdering him, strung his mutilated body up from a traffic control tower just outside the bank.

The bank was not the Taliban's only port of call on the night before they fled. They also visited Sharai Shazada, the open-air money market in Kabul's main bazaar. According to Amin Khosty, head of the market traders' association, they raided 81 of the market's 300 currency shops. Mr Khosty said that he alone lost $75,000 in US and other currencies. The market was protected by 10 Taliban guards, but Mr Khosty is not convinced that they were the only ones responsible. "I don't think 10 people alone could do it,'' he said. "They even looted the carpets, the telephones and the satellite dishes... I suspect it was the Taliban, but they also let the prisoners out of jail that night, so they were on the loose too."

The money market where jobless Afghans try to make a little money by betting on exchange rates, and where impoverished locals receive remittances from abroad through the notorious Hawala ("debt transfer") system, has bounced back and is now as busy as ever. The bank, however, has been badly hit. Mr Sharif said: "This is act of national betrayal. This money belonged to the people of Afghanistan, to the poor, to orphans, to people who were waiting to have their salaries paid. It was all stolen."

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