Hundreds of Afghans wait in line for new passports outside the main passport office in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 10, 2012. The business leaders that Afghanistan needs to succeed after allied forces withdraw their troops in 2014 are already making moves to leave the country.
Bryan Denton, New York Times
As U.S. gets ready to go, so do Afghans
- Article by: GRAHAM BOWLEY and
- MATTHEW ROSENBERG New York Times
- March 30, 2012 - 10:18 PM
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - The United States may be struggling to come up with a viable exit plan for Afghanistan, but Abdul Wasay Manani is sure of his.
The broad-set Afghan butcher spent the past seven years trucking cattle in from the Pakistan border and building a thriving business for himself and his family, serving up some of the best hamburgers in Kabul for the embassies and expatriates and their barbecues.
But this month, Manani, 38, flew to India for 14 days to scout out a new business, and a new home, ready to leave Afghanistan and everything he sweated to build here, just in case things fall apart when most Americans and other foreign troops leave in 2014. "If the Taliban come like last time, ordering people around with whips, I can't stay here," he said. "I have to leave this country to keep my family safe."
Many Afghans share his concern. Interviews with business owners, analysts and economists paint a picture of extreme anxiety in both the domestic and international business communities here as the Afghan-U.S. relationship deteriorates and as the Western drawdown begins.
In this environment, troubling indicators are not hard to find. More than 30,400 people applied for asylum to industrialized nations in 2011, the highest level in 10 years and four times the number seeking asylum in 2005, according to provisional U.N. figures. Meanwhile, the number of displaced Afghans outside the country seeking to come the other way slowed to 68,000 last year, down from 110,000 in 2010 and a big decrease from the 1.8 million Afghans who repatriated in 2002, the year after the Taliban were driven out of power.
The only Western bank operating here said Wednesday that it will leave. Piles of cash equaling about a quarter of Afghanistan's annual economic output were physically carried out of Afghanistan last year.
Fewer foreign companies are seeking to do business here, and those already here are downsizing and putting off new investments. And there are businessmen like Manani who have a foot out the door, working actively toward a Plan B for life and business outside Afghanistan.
Karzai is angry
Senior Afghan officials are acutely aware of it, and are alternately worried and angry. "Sometimes I hear that some businessmen are fleeing and moving their businesses to outside Afghanistan," President Hamid Karzai said at a news conference this month. "Curses be upon such businessmen that made tons of money here and now that the Americans are leaving they flee. They can leave right now. We don't need them."
Given the importance of trying to bolster economic independence in the overall plan for Afghanistan, the skittish responses and decreasing investment and hiring strike right at hopes that this impoverished nation, still barely on the cusp of modernity, can thrive on its own.
Large companies are expressing worries about the security situation. One of the most significant is Standard Chartered, the only big Western bank with a branch in the country, which said Wednesday that it is turning over its operations to a local Afghan bank and withdrawing because of deteriorating conditions.
Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, chief executive of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said the head of one of the country's four big cellphone companies has told him that he plans to take his investments out of the country after 2014.
"It is still two years to go but we are hearing from our businesses that everybody is raising this question," Haqjo said.
© 2013 Star Tribune