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Afghanistan: Your Next Big Investment?

by Jim McTague

Barron's

9.27.2006


Want to own a piece of the historic Silk Road ? The Afghan Investment Support
Agency is putting on a road show in cities across North America over the next
two months to attract capital to the fledgling democracy.

Sure, there are risks aplenty, given the country's outbreaks of violence. But
if you keep your head, then there potentially are big rewards. Omar Zakhilwal,
president and CEO of the governmental agency, cites Afghanistan's low taxes and
tariffs, inexpensive labor and growing demand for cellphones, food and building
materials.

He uses the example of a $1 million investment in a marble refinishing firm.
Afghanistan has over 40 different colors of marble, and demand for it is strong
inside the country and abroad. Zakhilwal, who has a doctorate in economics,
claims the initial investment would be recovered in 11/2 to 2 years. Thereafter,
the investor would make a million a year. "That's the way things are in
Afghanistan," he says.

Afghanistan has about $1.3 billion of foreign investment. The largest
investors are the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Germany, India and Pakistan.
U.S. investment is around $70 million. Most American investors are small
businessmen who team up with locals. The road trip -- to Washington, New York,
Los Angeles and other cities -- will try to arrange business partnerships of
this sort.

One drawback: Afghanistan has no reliable legal system. No problem, says
Zakhilwal: Disputes can be adjudicated in other countries. As for the shooting,
he says it's mainly in the south. He does acknowledge, however, that investors
should have long-term horizons.


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