The National Bank of Pakistan has become the first foreign bank to open in Afghanistan in the post Taleban era. The private banking industry took a step forward in Afghanistan this week as the National Bank of Pakistan opened a branch in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

Leaders in Afghanistan issued new laws three weeks ago to govern the commercial banking system. Licenses were also issued to the London-based Standard Chartered Bank and First Micro Finance Bank - owned mainly by the Agha Khan Fund for Economic Development.

When the Bank of Pakistan opened its doors Tuesday, new customers were able to deposit money but not much else. The bank's managing director says more services will be available soon as the phones lines and other crucial infrastructure is put into place.

Until now, investors, diplomats and aid organizations have used either cash or a traditional money transfer system known as 'hawala' to do business in the war-torn country, but many say the system is unreliable and can be manipulated for fraudulent purposes.

Hong Kong's retail sales rose 1.2 percent in August compared to the same period a year ago.

The increase, the first in since the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was boosted in part by a return of mainland Chinese tourists to the city. In April, retail sales were hit hard by travel warnings and fears of the virus. Sales slipped 15.2 percent as travelers avoided Hong Kong and residents avoided its shopping districts.

In yet another sign Hong Kong is seeing its economy recover, top property owners say they would welcome the resumption of some government land sales. Land sales have been frozen in Hong Kong for the past year in an effort to shore up prices, which have declined almost 70 percent since 1997.

Staney Ho is one of Hong Kong's biggest property developers. He says a graduated approach will not hurt the market if luxury sites are the first to be sold.

In other news, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that the jobless rate remained at 5.8 percent - defying expectations that it would rise above six percent.

Australia's unemployment rate is at its lowest in almost fourteen years. Analysts say this year's economic slowdown had ended earlier than expected.