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Pullout of NATO forces could badly hit Afghan construction industry
Tuesday, 12.18.2012, 10:16pm (GMT+1)

Pullout of NATO forces could 
badly hit Afghan construction industry

By Farid Behbud, Chen Xin

KABUL, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- The construction industry in Afghanistan would be badly hit with the impending withdrawal of NATO-led coalition forces from the war-ravaged country and the continued threat from militant groups.

"The construction business hasn't been very well recently. It' s going to get worse after the military's announcement of a two- year security transition," Akram Shah, 38, a construction company owner, said.

Construction firms have complained that the road and building construction market had suffered a slump over the past few years.

On Pul-i-Charkhi road, a highway linking the capital Kabul to eastern provinces, the construction companies have parked road- building equipment to attract customers and clinch contracts.

"The violence and fighting are not the only obstacles. The administrative corruption and the extortion by officials have also affected our business," Shah told Xinhua.

The transition of security control from 100,000-strong NATO-led troops, most of them Americans, to Afghan forces is due to complete by the end of 2014.

"Without adequate security, no one dares to invest in any field, particularly in the construction industry. No construction company will have the courage to send workers and machineries to a construction site where security is lax and there is constant threat to the lives of workers and the construction company's equipment," Shah said.

Shah said most of his customers were foreign forces and foreign companies that mostly rent his equipment. He set up his company nearly 11 years ago.

"After all the foreigners would pull out, who will rent our machines?" Shah asked.

The Taliban, who ruled the country before they were ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, renewed armed insurgency, staging ambush and suicide attacks, killing combatants as well as civilians.

In May this year, the Taliban launched annual spring offensive against Afghan and NATO forces.

They also warned local constriction and logistic firms not to make a deal with foreigners and the government.

The militants have frequently attacked the local companies over the past decade. In one incident, up to 24 workers were killed and 59 wounded when three suicide bombers struck a construction site in Barmal district of Paktika province in early 2011.

"Why would we stay here now that we can do business somewhere else? If the threat persists, I and my stockholders would decide to move our assets to neighboring countries or even to Dubai," Shah said.

However, the Afghan government has recently announced that the Afghan army and police will take over full control of security from foreign forces by the end of 2013, a year ahead of schedule.

"There is no need to worry over the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told a gathering of Afghan ambassadors and diplomats in his fortified palace on Saturday, adding the pullout of foreign troops from Afghanistan would not worsen the security situation in the country, rather it would help in stabilizing the country.

Not all construction dealers share Shah's negative assessment of the situation in Afghanistan.

"Some American troops will stay after 2014 to help us secure the country. The government is now negotiating a security pact with the Americans," Aman with Hajji Sarwar Construction Company said.

"I know that the business is not as good as two years ago. I think it will take the construction industry time to recover. But without doubt, the uncertainty would end the moment the local security forces can prove that they are capable of providing security to the country," said Aman, 41, who like many Afghans, goes only by one name.

According to Karzai, even if the NATO-led forces leave Afghanistan, international financial support for the war-ravaged country will continue to pour in.

During an international aid conference in Japan in July, the donor countries pledged more than 16 billion U.S. dollars in development aid for Afghanistan through 2015.

The U.S. and its NATO allies also promised almost the same amount to support Afghan army and police after the pullout of their troops.

"I don't want to see another civil war and stifle here as we saw after the withdrawal of the Russian forces in 1990s," Karzai said.

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