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Afghan Economy Has 'Made Tremendous Progress,' says US Commerce Secretary - 2003-10-16

U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans, on a visit to Afghanistan, says the country's economy has made tremendous progress in the past two years. But despite reforms and improved infrastructure, much work remains to be done.

Speaking to reporters in the capital Kabul, Mr. Evans says Afghan government policy has already made great strides in repairing the war-shattered economy.

"Not only have they passed new banking laws, [but also] there's new investment laws, there's new commercial laws, and so there's great reforms, great steps, already underway," he said.

Offering further evidence of improvement, the U.S. commerce secretary pointed to the road between Kabul and the main southern city of Kandahar, one of the country's key transport routes for trade.

Mr. Evans says the U.S.-assisted road-building project will cut the drive time between the two cities from its current 24 hours to five hours by next September.

He says that by the fall of 2005, the same road is expected to extend to Herat, Afghanistan's trade gateway to Iran.

But despite the promising signs mentioned by Mr. Evans, the Afghan economy is still mired in the aftermath of two decades of war and a three-year drought that ravaged its agricultural sector.

With a per capita gross domestic product of just $700, it remains one of the poorest nations in the world.

Mr. Evans says he hopes small businesses will help push the country to a more livable economy.

He adds that such economic opportunities will also help women, who were all but excluded from economic activity under the former ultra-conservative Taleban rulers.

"There are great opportunities for women entrepreneurs to build small businesses here in this country, which we greatly encourage, because we know in America, small businesses are the real creators of jobs in a country," Mr. Evans said.

Many Afghans, however, say that true economic recovery will depend on an improvement in national security.

The Kabul-to-Kandahar road, for example, runs through a region plagued by insurgencies by remaining Taleban fighters and other militant forces.

Only if the central government and the international community can come together to end the insurgencies and other security problems, they say, will Afghanistan's economy really take off.