News: Asadabad merchants better off than 5 years ago
Story by Capt. Peter Shinn
By U.S. Air Force Capt. Peter Shinn
ASADABAD, Afghanistan - Members of the Iowa National Guard’s 734th Agribusiness Development Team found that 24 of 25 shopkeepers surveyed in Asadabad, Dec. 2 were better off or much better off than they were five years ago, and all paid taxes, though a majority thought they were too high.
Additionally, all of the shopkeepers in the provincial capital of Kunar said they would contact a government official to address pressing concerns, though opinions on the quality of government services were mixed. None surveyed identified security as a problem and all described the security situation as good or excellent.
One of the shopkeepers the ADT surveyed was Nuuora, a merchant who sells seed, fertilizer and other items. His complaint with the government sounded not unlike those of businessmen everywhere.
“I pay 4,800 afghanis [$106] per year in taxes, and they can’t even keep this canal clean,” Nuuora said, gesturing at the foot-wide gutter in front of his open storefront.
Nevertheless, Nuuora, who has two wives and 13 children, conceded he was much better off than just a few years ago, when he was a refugee in Afghanistan. Nuuora’s experience was not unique among the Asadabad merchants surveyed, the majority of whom fled Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule and returned within just the last few years.
The ADT surveyed a wide range of business owners, from a hand tool dealer, to a sewing machine repair and sale concern, a women and children’s clothing boutique, a high-end jewellery store, a wholesale fruit and vegetable market, a hand-made custom furniture shop and many more.
U.S. Army Capt. Pat Birgy, of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., the ADT’s finance officer, organized the Asadabad market survey, the second by the ADT in as many months.
“Our first time out, we were mainly looking at food prices, sources and availability,” Birgy said. “This time, we wanted to take a more broad approach and find out more about how business actually works here.”
Birgy admitted to being surprised by the diversity of goods available for sale in Asadabad, and by some of the survey responses, too. Moreover, according to Birgy, the information gleaned from the survey will positively impact his work in mentoring the provincial budget director.
“There is no doubt there is a very, very vibrant business sector here, with a lot of economic activity, more than I think any of us thought,” Birgy said. “I wasn’t expecting to find a functional tax system already in place but clearly, there is, and now I can sit down with the finance directorate to get a better idea of what that system is and we can go from there.”
The ADT’s deputy commander, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Lewis of North Liberty, Iowa, took part in the Asadabad business survey. He also is a key leader of the ADT’s initiative to mentor Kunar provincial officials of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
“This survey really shows that the provincial government is doing a lot of things right already,” Lewis said. “It gives us better situational awareness as we interact with our counterparts in the Afghan government.”