NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Hundreds of business people joined government officials for an economic development conference– an event hailed as the first of its scope and size in the region- in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province, March 28 and 29.
The event brought a half-dozen Afghan government ministers, several provincial governors and numerous United States development officials to meet with the crowd of local business entrepreneurs.
“It’s an occasion to focus on development,” Mohammad Qurban Haqjo, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries Chief Executive Officer, said during a conference break. “We have a lot of potential here.”
This potential includes the country’s agriculture, mining and trade resources as well as its growing manufacturing base. Haqjo said the conference helped open a dialogue between Afghan government and business communities on how to cooperate toward achieving their goals.
“It’s good to list the challenges you face,” he said.
Speakers at the Afghan-led event often mentioned the country’s need for effective security to provide an atmosphere for economic growth, but the reverse can be crucial.
U.S. Maj. Josef Freer of Columbus, Ohio, a civil affairs officer with the Civil Military Operations office, Task Force Mountain Warrior, said creating more jobs and businesses help prevent people from turning to anti-Afghan forces for support.
“The only way we’re going to build any stability is through economic growth,” Freer said prior to the conference, noting they expect it to be just the first of many such events to be held in the future.
Officials are seeking part of this expansion through new investment. Lea Swanson, a senior advisor with the Office of Economic Growth, U.S. Agency for International Development, is working with a new program to bring industries to the country.
The program, called Investment Promotion Partnerships, is set to be fully operational by the summer. It offers technical assistance and matching grants to companies looking to invest in the country and encourages them to partner with Afghan businesses.
“We can help them reduce their financial risk,” Swanson said.
In turn, partnerships allow Afghans to share a company’s know-how and experience with the population. For example, Swanson notes the Coca-Cola facility in Kabul is a completely Afghan-owned franchise.
“It builds the local capacity,” she said.
Numerous planned projects and existing aid programs were cited for an audience estimated at 500 people on the first day of the conference, with only a slight drop in attendance the following day. During presentations, officials pointed out the need for businesses to invest their own capital as part of receiving aid and the need to prove their profitability.
The event also featured a vendor’s exhibition area with more than 70 Afghan businesses, banks and associations showing off their potential benefits for customers.
Sharafuddin Katawazay, a partner with Afghan Integrated Carpet Manufacturing, said the event was an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face with the officials who handle business aid programs. He referred to the event as a “good start.” His company hopes to open a factory in a new industrial park planned in Jalalabad.
He said many carpets produced in Afghanistan are shipped to Pakistan for their final cutting, washing and stretching, but then they are labeled as Pakistan rugs. The factory would allow those processes to be done here.
“We’re trying to bring those carpets back,” Katawazay said.
Officials with Rana Technologies, an information and communications technology company based in Kabul, said there was room for improvement in the conference, but it served its purpose.
“I call it a very good beginning,” Rana Technologies Director Abdul Ghafoor said “Identifying a problem is half of a solution. It has to be followed up.”
Afghan economic officials organized the event with assistance provided by the U.S. Department of State and International Security Assistance Forces.
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