24 APRIL 13 2008 SUNDAY CANBERRA TIMES www.canberratimes.com
A bank, business school and weekend market arehelping rebuild a
sense of community in
Afghanistans southern provence of Oruzgan, asDefence Reporter
DAVID McLENNAN writes
Major Robert, Chamber of Commerce chairman Hadji Aminullah and
Captain Aldrik at the Tarin Kowt markets. Photo: DAVID McLENNAN
Dutch entrepreneur andsoldier Major Robert istrying to put his
mottointo action.People with jobs dont
fight, he says.Major Robert, part of the Dutch
Provincial Reconstruction Team,has spent the past six months
awayfrom his management consultancyin the Netherlands helping
Afgh-anis in the southern province ofOruzgan by effectively
creating aneconomy from scratch.
It is his second effort to rebuildan Afghani economy and he
istranslating lessons he learned inthe north to the south.
We have learned that whenpeople have a job and earn alivelihood,
they defend that insteadof fighting, he says.
They are less likely to agree topick up a gun and shoot at
govern-ment or foreign soldiers inexchange for a bread roll if
theycan already feed their family.
Major Robert and Captain Ald-rik, who takes over from him forthe
next six months, are working tomake that the case for as manylocal
Afghanis as possible.
Oruzgan is about to get its firstbank, a business school will
opensoon and the Dutch have takenover and grown an
Australianintroduction: a weekend bazaar atthe Tarin Kowt base.
Khaki tourists soldiers withfew things to spend their pay
onexcept souvenirs are not justhelping to provide security
inOruzgan but also giving locals anincome.
However, Major Robert says oneof the bigger problems is
theAustralians are not bargainingenough with the traders;
mostsimply accept the asking price.
The Dutch, he says, at leasthaggle the price down, even if
theydo pay closer to the original cost inthe end anyway.
We have to prevent them justmaking a big buck, because it
willget the economy out of balance.But we want them to spread
theword that [the International Secur-ity Assistance Force] can
betrusted, he says.
As well as the incomes itprovides, Major Robert says thebazaar
is also about buildingtrust of us in them and of them inus.
There are security concerns;we have to do a lot of
persuasion[with base authorities], but theres
a thorough search, Major Robertsays.
All traders are registered withthe relatively new OruzganChamber
of Commerce and thebazaar averages about 55 stallseach Sunday, but
can handle up to75 traders.
Locals spread their wares onblankets, but Major Robert wantsreal
stalls built as the next stage indeveloping the bazaar.
It is unlikely to grow as big as asimilar bazaar at Kandahar
Air-field, where the much larger basemeans a much larger bazaar and
awider array of goods.
However, there are fewerChinese-made pirated DVDs atTarin Kowt,
leaving a greaterproportion of pashmina scarfs,lapis lazuli
jewellery, ornamentsand antiques although questionsabout
Stall owner Hayatullah, 24, andone of his younger brothers
workat the bazaar, earning $100 to$200 each Sunday enough to
buyfood for their family of 10 eachweek.
He also runs a movie shop intown and works as a securityguard
for the Americans at thebase.
It gives him a comparativelycomfortable existence in
povertystricken Afghanistan, although itdoes not come without its
risk,especially when he wants to visitfamily in nearby
The way is dangerous. It is verydangerous when we want to
gohome, he says.
. . . They [Taliban] target andstop cars and check people to
seewho is working with the govern-ment and the foreign forces.
They take you and kill you andbehead.
For Hayatullah, the benefit offeeding his family outweighs
therisks from the Taliban.
It is very easy work and wehave [better] money than
otherbusinesses in the city, he says.
Oruzgan Chamber of Commercechairman Hadji Aminullah saysmany of
the people in his provincehave little take choice but to takethe
The people are poor. They needto work and support their
families.They are jobless, they must do thisjob, he says through
. . . If the person comes here
and works for one Sunday or oneweek, that is enough for them,
theycan support their family for aweek.
He also points out the traders donot need to worry about their
livesonly when travelling. There areTaliban in the town of Tarin
Kowt.He does not know how many, butsays there are a lot.
The Taliban would arrest anyAfghanis they found to be
workingwith the International SecurityAssistance Force, be it
ascontractors or by selling goods atthe bazaar.
If they catch them, the Talibanwill kill them. This is the
bigproblem, he says.
He recognises this means that ifthe assistance force leaves and
theTaliban takes over again, he andeveryone who has helped
theforeigners will die.
However, he is confident theAustralians and Dutch are winningthe
hearts and minds of theOruzgan locals.
The people are happy. Theyknow about the Australian people
working in different places and ondifferent projects, they are
makingschools and building roads andother projects, he says.
The Australian ReconstructionTask Force has built bases for
theAfghan army and police and dras-tically improved the hospital
andschools, with much more workplanned.
Major Robert says the Inter-national Labor Organisation is
set-ting up a business school in TarinKowt to teach people how to
set upor improve a business.
It will be a relatively basicservice, doing things such
asteaching people the differencebetween a product and a service,and
because of the high levels ofilliteracy, participants will notneed
to be able to read or write.
He is particularly pleased that abank is coming to the province
forthe first time.
The World Council of CreditUnions has won the tender fromthe
Microfinance Investment andSupport Facility for Afghanistan toset
up an Islamic investment and
finance cooperative, its ninth in thecountry.
The council obtains fatwas religious rulings from local mul-lahs
to show the cooperatives areSharia (islamic law) compliant.
This means they offer financialcontracts instead of loans and
amark up instead of interest.
Similarly, there will be no loansas such. Instead, the
cooperativebecomes a third player betweenbuyer and seller, allowing
peopleto invest in their businesses.
The bank buys the machineand sells it on, and the
pricedifference is the mark up and youare able to pay the money
ininstalments, Major Robert says.
People in Oruzgan will also soonhave access to life
insurance,which will come from sacrificingsome of the mark up on
Major Robert, Captain Aldrikand the rest of
Dutch-Australianreconstruction teams hope theywill leave Oruzgan
with afunctioning economy where thelocals no longer need to turn to
theTaliban for help.