Untold Story of Afghan Business Success
Businessmen in Nangarhar, a province in eastern Afghanistan, complain that economic success stories there go largely unreported because of a media focus on insurgent violence.
They say reporting positive developments is more important than ever amid fears that next year’s withdrawal of NATO forces will have a devastating impact on the Afghan economy.
Insurgent activity appears to be growing in a number of districts, with a spate of kidnappings on the main highway to Pakistan. The Taleban have a significant presence in large parts of Nangarhar province, even thought security officials say they have the situation under control. (For more, see Taleban Abductions on Afghanistan's Road South.)
Despite the risks, investors say they are committed to developing business interests in Nangarhar.
Gholam Nabi Rahmanzai, head of the eastern branch of the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) said levels of investment across Nangarhar had increased by 20 per cent in the last two years, from 100 million US dollars to around 120 million dollars a year.
He said there were now around 80 factories operating in the provincial capital Jalalabad, with more opening all the time. The growth has been fed by the availability of inexpensive labour, efforts to provide factories with a reliable supply of electricity, and the creation of a ten-year tax-free regime in Hesar Shahi industrial zone east of Jalalabad.
Hajji Tor Malang, chairman of the Nangarhar Industrial Union, said that his fellow business leaders had accepted that instability was part of daily life.
“Afghans have suffered a lot as refugees and from their treatment by neighbouring countries,” he said. ”They’re now committed to staying in the country under any circumstances, so they are no longer scared about the future. The situation in Afghanistan has been chaotic for the past 35 years. We are not surrendering to circumstances. No matter what, we cannot give up on our ambitions for the country and for our compatriots.”
Malang’s positive view is shared by Hajji Nurolhaq, owner of the Nangarhar Aluminium Factory, who called on the media to report positive developments so as to boost public confidence that life would get better.
His 70 employees are already unable to meet the demand for products, made from reprocessed aluminium scrap. Nurolhaq plans to set up another factory in 2014, and is urging investors not to abandon Afghanistan to seek opportunities elsewhere.
“We are Afghans, and we are going to live in Afghanistan. No matter how bad the circumstances become, we will neither leave Afghanistan nor stop our activities,” he said. “In reality, it is our neighbours who have imposed the war on us to ensure that Afghanistan always remains a market for their consumer goods, and prevent Afghans from standing on their own feet.”
Hajji Safirullah Sediqi owns the Asma mineral water plant which processes 5,000 litres of water a day and sells to the whole of eastern Afghanistan.
“If we wait for the situation to improve, and if we expect foreigners to build this country for us, we will be making a big mistake,” he said. “There is no option but for us to roll up our sleeves and confront the circumstances. We have invested here for the sake of Afghanistan’s future. We cannot leave now.
“We are confident that the situation will improve rather than deteriorate.”
Mohammad Bashir Dudyal, an economics lecturer at Nangarhar university, said the courage displayed by business leaders in the province was admirable.
“We have a saying in Pashto that profit comes with losses,” he said. “Economic principles dictate that the risk of losses is a basic factor.”
Dudyal said the media should stop presenting an unremittingly grim view of the situation.
“It’s the media’s fault. They should pay more attention to positive reports of development like this. I know that most people in Nangarhar, as well as people in other parts of Afghanistan, are unaware that so many things are produced in Nangarhar. The reason is that the media only publish negative reports.”
Babrak Miakhel, head of the journalism faculty at Nangarhar University and a contributor for BBC radio, said the criticism was at least partly justified.
“The public has a right to hear both negative and positive news from reporters,” he said.
Miakhel said that his faculty taught journalism students that they should be even-handed in their reporting.
Some local journalists say they had no idea that there were successful businesses in Nangarhar. Ahmad Wali Yusufzai, a reporter with Ashna Television in Kabul, said he was surprised to hear the province was so productive.
“I personally was unaware that our Nangarhar makes so many products,” he said after visiting Jalalabad, adding that he now intended to report on these developments. “This is a matter of great pride for Afghans.”
Hijratullah Ekhtyar is an IWPR-trained reporter in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.