Afghanistan faces economic time bomb as NATO war ends
KABULJan 03, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Jan 03, 2015 12:00 am
The Taliban insurgency may still be raging, but the poor state of the economy could pose a bigger threat to Afghanistan's long-term viability and huge mineral reserves are unlikely to offer a quick fix. In Kabul's Sarayee Shahzada market, moneychangers wave thick bundles of Afghanis, dollars, rupees and dirhams, but the customers are not packing the alleyways like they used to and business is well down on two years ago. After a decade of near double-digit growth, the Afghan economy has stalled in the last two years, hit by a disputed presidential election and the end of NATO's combat mission, which formally closed on Sunday. Now, an equally tough economic hurdle joins the tricky political and security transitions. The fact is not lost on the moneychangers who deal in "hawala" transactions, an informal system of transferring funds internationally seen as a barometer of economic confidence. Omiad Khan, sitting in his family business in the market, told AFP more money was leaving Afghanistan these days and less coming in. "As the withdrawal got nearer, investors in Afghanistan moved their money abroad - they transferred it to Dubai, China, Pakistan, India and Turkey," he said.
A recent survey of more than 9,000 Afghans by the Asia Foundation, a U.S. nongovernmental organization, found unemployment and a weak economy were the biggest concerns, beating insecurity and corruption. Since 2002, America has pumped more than $104 billion into Afghanistan - a figure that, when adjusted for inflation, surpasses the Marshall Plan that helped Europe rise from the ashes of World War II, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a U.S. watchdog. But the bulk of this money has gone on combat operations rather than reconstruction and while Afghan forces are taking over the fight against the Taliban, their wages still come from overseas support.