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Economic Downturn Points to Uncertain Future in Afghanistan

Bethany Matta

The real estate market in Kabul is flush with huge homes for rent or sale. So many people have emptied their bank accounts and taken their money abroad, the central bank has placed a $20,000 cap on cash withdrawals. Afghan investors are fleeing the country.

Kabul’s upscale Wazir Akhbar Khan district has long been home to foreign aid groups and the country’s wealthiest officials.  Now, it is slowly emptying, as foreigners close down their operations and Afghans look for safer investments.

Kabul’s less affluent also are feeling the effects of the economic exodus.

Many truck drivers like Mehrab Gul have made their living delivering flour and cement from neighboring Pakistan and Iran. He says business has been dropping.

“Orders have decreased a lot, we used to drive six rounds of cement in a month from Pakistan, nowadays we bring three,” said Gul.

The truck drivers also complain about payoffs to police. Official corruption is crippling investor confidence and businessmen are taking their cash and leaving the country - some $4.5 billion in 2011.  

Najeebullah Akhtary, the president of the money exchange union in Kabul, says if the international community leaves, Afghanistan will fall to civil war.

“Businessmen are escaping day by day. And the matter of what happens in 2014 has a negative impact on the market,” said Akhtary.

After a decade of war, many businesses depend on foreign contracts. The scheduled troop departure is a worry for businessmen like Zahir Hakimzada.

“After 2014 the foreign forces will leave Afghanistan - where will these companies go? For example, we have 5-6 very big transport companies. There will be less and less supply and few supply lines. Where should these vehicles go? The Afghan government doesn’t have a plan for transition,” said Hakimzada.

Many Afghans are also worried about greater insecurity after foreign troops leave. Business owners travel with bodyguards - even for trips inside the capital. Their worry: kidnapping.

While Kabul police say they have cracked down on the problem, many say it is merely under-reported by the media.

Even businesses that are growing are worried about the future. After six years of operation, this Coca Cola bottling plant is still without reliable electricity. Instead, the factory depends on a generator that consumes thousands of liters of fuel each day - a temporary fix that seems more permanent with each passing year.

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Comments
     
by: Really
April 07, 2012 7:11 AM
When NATO leaves they can go back to killing each other. Some things never change. We did what we could, and it didn't work. The people of Afghanistan have to want to live in a civilized contemporary society. We can't force it on them.

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