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This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: G7 tries to salvage Afghanistan crisis

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Good morning from the Financial Times. Today is Tuesday, August 24th, and this is your FT News Briefing. Today, UK prime minister Boris Johnson will meet with American president Joe Biden and other G7 leaders to try and salvage America’s exit from Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Taliban are working to shore up the Afghan economy.

Stephanie Findlay
I do think in some ways they are trying to show that they are more business-friendly and easier to work with than these corrupt government officials.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
And in the US, a key government assistance programme will end soon. We’ll find out what that means for millions of gig workers who’ve relied on these payments to try to get by during the pandemic. I’m Taylor Nicole Rogers, and here’s the news you need to start your day.

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At an emergency G7 summit hosted by the UK’s Boris Johnson, G7 leaders will urge US president Joe Biden to extend his timeline for the US-led evacuation from Afghanistan. The heads of state — meeting virtually — will also try to come up with a long-term approach to dealing with the Taliban. And while the aim of the talks is to find a way to mitigate the debacle, our political editor George Parker says the world’s leading democracies may end up in a weaker position.

George Parker
The danger for the G7 here is that, you know, it might all be very well for the G7 to ask for longer to keep foreign troops in Kabul to carry out this evacuation. But what happens if the Taliban says no, and the Taliban has already said no. It’s a red line that foreign troops have to be out by August 31st. And the sense that in a nutshell captures the weakness of the West, that we’re basically on our knees to the Taliban to beg for more time to get people out of Kabul. It’s a very unedifying spectacle.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
Also this week, the UN Security Council is expected to meet and it will be a big moment as the US, France and the UK will have to work more closely with their strategic rivals, China and Russia.

George Parker
The British government, for example, has already been speaking to the Chinese who can speak to the Russians as well. On the point about the UN, really is, that’s obviously with the five permanent members of the Security Council, France, the US, the UK, Russia and China. This may be one incidence where the five members can actually agree some kind of common approach because frankly, it’s in everyone’s interest to have some kind of stability in Afghanistan. So the resolution that France and Britain are trying to draw up, which they would need, of course, and not unanimity on the Security Council, will cover things like the approach on human rights, the approach on aid and other factors like that to bring everyone together and to come up with some kind of international approach to what’s going on in Afghanistan.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That’s the FT’s political editor, George Parker.

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In Afghanistan, the Taliban is in the process of setting up a new government, but the US has frozen billions of dollars of the country’s assets. Also, many banks are shut. Many shops aren’t open.

Stephanie Findlay
There’s no money at the ATMs. I was speaking to somebody and they said, you know, phone reception has become increasingly patchy because there’s no one to fix the lines. And we’ve seen this incredible brain drain as panic has taken the capital and people try to secure a flight out of the country.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That’s the FT’s Stephanie Findlay. She said the Taliban is not just dealing with an economic crisis, but a political and a humanitarian one as well.

Stephanie Findlay
So some kind of confidence is absolutely necessary. But at the same time, the Taliban are in the process of forming their new government. And you have former Afghan President Karzai and former chief peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah trying to hammer out what would be a power-sharing government. So it’s this balance between the absolute need for Afghanistan to get up and running again and functioning versus what sort of government the Taliban forms.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
What does the Taliban have going for it, and how might they try to gain people’s confidence?

Stephanie Findlay
The Taliban have billed themselves as more open, more transparent compared to the corrupt government. Ordinary Afghan would have to pass through this gauntlet of customs officers, of police officers demanding bribes on the highways. For example, the Taliban would issue a receipt if there was a checkpoint, whereas if you’re going through checkpoint after checkpoint run by the government, you would have to pay at each checkpoint. So they have worked to kind of portray themselves as more fair and actually better for the business community. I was talking to a contact today and he was talking about how they had actually lowered tariffs at the border crossings, which they took over earlier this summer before their lightning offensive. So I do think in some ways they are trying to show that they are more business-friendly and easier to work with than these corrupt government officials.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
So people often say that the Taliban get their money from the drug trade, from opium. To what extent is that true and what other sources of income do they have?

Stephanie Findlay
The experts that I talked to say that the emphasis on the Taliban’s revenue coming from poppy profits is probably misplaced. Looking at data at the border crossings and studying tax collection, experts have shown that the bulk of the money comes from taxation, essentially. And the role of drugs, while it does represent some revenue, it’s not the main source of revenue.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
So what about foreign aid? The Afghan economy has been so dependent on foreign aid and the Taliban said they would like some foreign assistance, especially to reduce their dependence on the drug trade. Is that feasible?

Stephanie Findlay
In this incredible press conference, a Taliban spokesperson said that they would like to move away from poppy cultivation and that they don’t want Afghanistan to be producing narcotics. But he called on the international community to help transition the economy. And definitely the country does need help and assistance. But after 20 years of the US being in Afghanistan and the fact that poppy cultivation has actually grown over the past 20 years and production of methamphetamine is rising, I don’t know if the Taliban will be able to deliver on that pledge in the near future.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
So what’s your sense of the kind of government that the Taliban will form?

Stephanie Findlay
I feel like we are waiting and watching to see what sort of government the Taliban will announce. I mean, many of the regional countries don’t want them to announce an emirate, which would embolden other extremist groups. They would like to see an inclusive government and they would like to see a government that has the capacity to absorb the old civilian government. But it’s all up in the air at the moment and we don’t have any indication yet of what government the Taliban will announce.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That’s the FT’s Stephanie Findlay. And you can join FT correspondents tomorrow for a live webinar on what’s next for Afghanistan. Special guests will include former US commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus. That’s tomorrow, August 25th, at 2:30PM in the UK, 9:30AM Eastern Standard Time. You can sign up for the webinar at FT.com/afghan-webinar. We’ll include the link in our show notes.

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Taylor Nicole Rogers
In the US next month, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Programme will end. This landmark programme was the first ever to give gig workers government jobless benefits, and it helped nearly 30 million gig workers get through the pandemic.

Amanda Chu
And gig workers I talked to were able to work fewer hours or stop working completely to reduce their risk of getting Covid because of pandemic unemployment assistance. But now that it’s about to expire, these workers are worried about going back to work, especially since cases are rising, especially if they have family members or they themselves have underlying health conditions.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That’s the FT’s Amanda Chu. She told me that when the benefits end, a lot of people will have to re-enter the precarious gig economy.

Amanda Chu
Experts I talk to predict that when these benefits expire in two weeks, it will see an influx of new and returning gig workers into the gig economy because of its promises of fast money, easy entry and flexibility. And this is already being seen in states that decided to end unemployment benefits early.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
And well, that should be good for companies like Uber and Lyft, but Amanda says one gig worker in Michigan she spoke to said the pandemic assistance programme had allowed her to reduce her hours because her husband had a health condition.

Amanda Chu
And with the help of PUA, she didn’t have to work so much and reduced her risk. But now that PUA is expiring she plans on going back to work because she says she doesn’t have much of a choice. But then I also talked to another gig worker in the same state who also stopped working and received pandemic unemployment assistance. And for her gig work was just supplemental income and so when pandemic unemployment assistance ends, she doesn’t plan on entering gig economy because she says that she just can’t do it anymore. You don’t get paid nearly enough as you should.

Taylor Nicole Rogers
That’s the FT’s Amanda Chu.

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You can read more on all these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT News Briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: typo@ft.com. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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