Sun, Dec 30, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Suicide blast takes down Afghan juice empire

By Michael Georgy  /  Reuters, KABUL

An Afghan security guard stands inside a fruit factory that was destroyed by a car suicide bomb attack in Kabul on Friday last week.

Photo: Reuters

When a Taliban suicide bomber killed two people on the edge of the Afghan capital this month, there was another casualty — a global fruit juice business optimistically called “Spring Wish” that provided work for thousands of farmers across the country.

Mustafa Sadiq’s empire had been expanding healthily, bringing in badly needed foreign capital, before the attack inflicted the kind of financial loss cash-strapped Afghanistan can ill afford.

The pomegranate juice business was nearly wiped out in the split second it took the militant to detonate explosives in a truck parked near the factory on Dec. 17.

Pieces of shredded metal were scattered everywhere. Chairs were hurled across the office where Sadiq had spent so much time figuring out how to beat the odds against decades of war, instability and hopelessness.

Sadiq, 40, was in Dubai drumming up new export deals when an assistant called with the bad news. The call that Sadiq said he did not get is also troubling him.

“So far no officials, for the sake of sympathy, have called us,” Sadiq said, standing beside a year’s supply of juice in containers that were ruined in the attack — nearly US$10 million in losses overall.

“In this situation they should have called me and asked what kind of help they could provide. The agriculture, finance, commerce ministries. Nobody so far has visited or called,” he said.

The impact of the war and expectations for the future are often seen only through the eyes of Western or Afghan soldiers, or officials who point to the progress that has been made.

Sadiq offers another perspective. Some workers told him the bomber triggered the loudest blast they had heard in 30 years.

A Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 was followed by a decade of resistance by mujahidin fighters who drove them out. Then warlords carved out fiefdoms and destroyed half of the capital in the civil war that followed.

The Taliban took over, were toppled in 2001 and are now raising fears they may return when US-led NATO troops hand over security to Afghan forces in 2014.

However, Sadiq does not see the Taliban as the biggest threat to Afghanistan’s future. Instead, he says, officials have turned politics into a commercial enterprise driven by corruption.

“Government employees think it’s time to fill their pockets and grab whatever they can. That will pave the way for civil war,” said Sadiq, as workers feverishly loaded boxes of the little fruit juice left onto a truck and others worked to rebuild a brick wall.

“You have to struggle, not run away. It is kind of like running away now. They have walls around themselves sitting there and they do not have contact with ordinary Afghans,” he said.

His disillusionment is shared by the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

“There is no guarantee for investment in Afghanistan. People are afraid of the government, there is no rule of law. Government officials can do anything they want,” chamber first vice chairman Jan Alokzai said.

“[Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai’s words are only on paper and don’t have any value,” he said.

Afghanistan’s US-backed government says it is committed to building up the economy, attracting foreign investment and helping Afghans secure a brighter future. Karzai says it is contracts with foreigners that spread graft.

The government has highlighted 2014 as a year to invest in Afghanistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid, and to take advantage of its cheap labor and land leases.

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