Books on Afghanistan
Update No: 071 - (22/10/07)
Spots of economic development
Some sign of economic development are surfacing in several parts of the country.
The soft drinks sector seems to be particularly dynamic, with several companies
now producing mineral water and fizzy drinks. Demand for both is high in a
country which is both hot and often deprived of clean drinking water. High
transport costs favour local production over imports, while mineral water is
available in large quantities in this mountainous country. Bottling plants have
sprung up in Kabul, Herat, Mazar-i Sharif and Kandahar, that is, most of
Afghanistan's cities. Some developments can be noted in a number of other
sectors too. For example, a factory for mattresses appeared in Kabul, while a
manufacturer of paper tissue operates in Mazar-i Sharif. It is not clear whether
the government's current policy of limiting imports from Pakistan through
administrative controls (rather than high custom rates), is dictated by
undeclared protectionist desires or by the desire to retaliate against the
Pakistani government for its attitude towards the insurgency. One of the results
has however been a sharp rise in the price of foodstuffs, sometimes by 30% from
the beginning of the year. While this increase will, if it lasts, stimulate
internal agricultural production, it is at the same time making life even more
difficult for the poorer strata of the population. The price of oil is also
10-15% up from the beginning of the year, after a peak at the end of the summer
when it had almost doubled, and the government was forced to step in and impose
If some industrial sectors are beginning to take off, traditional craftsmanship
is in steady decline. The latest news is that the silk weaver craft of Western
Afghanistan is under threat because of cheap imports from China, Pakistan and
Tourism is back!
Although it might be difficult to believe, tourism is picking up in Afghanistan.
This year too, arrivals are up on last year's, even if overall numbers are still
puny at under 20,000 per year. Some travel companies market Afghanistan as an
adventure travel destination, with some success. Even Afghans increasingly
travel abroad and the Kabul-Dubai route is increasingly busy. A third airline (Pamir
Airways) following Ariana and Kam Air, has started operating on this route,
while a fourth one is starting operations soon (Safi Airways) and at least two
more planned for the next several months.
Chaos and corruption mar reconstruction effort
The growing confusion within the international community's effort in Afghanistan
was highlighted in October by the departure from Afghanistan after only 3 months
of Friedrich Eichele, the German police officer who had been despatched to
command the European Union police mission to Afghanistan. Eichele, who has a
weak command of English, alienated support among fellow Europeans, because of
his habit of imposing his views despite having just arrived to the country. The
EU police mission had been touted as a great hope for the reform of the troubled
Ministry of Interior.
The various efforts to reform the Ministry have so far failed to stem the spread
of corruption, which in any case is increasingly affecting every ministry and
contributing largely to the discredit of the government.
Presidential hopefuls emerging
This is not preventing various political players from positioning themselves for
the 2009 presidential elections. Apart for the incumbent Karzai, a likely
candidate is Mustafa Zahir, grandson of the deceased king. He might run with the
support of the opposition rooted among the ethnic minorities, hoping to carry at
least a significant share of Pashtun vote which he would need to secure a
majority. Some ministers of the existing cabinet are also said to be ventilating
the possibility of a candidature, including Finance Minister Ahady and Education
Minister Atmar. Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Qanuni also
quite clearly appears to be preparing himself for a rerun.