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  • 24 APRIL 13 2008 SUNDAY CANBERRA TIMES www.canberratimes.com

    SundayFocus

    Economicpushoffersnewhope

    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 authenticity sometimesremain.

    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 Kandahar.

    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 risk.

    The people are poor. They needto work and support their families.They are jobless, they must do thisjob, he says through aninterpreter.

    . . . 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 theirsavings.

    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.