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Planes, Trains and Limousines: Growth in Afghan Transport Sector

Encouraging signs of economic improvement in Afghanistan are emerging, with developments in the private aviation industry, as well as those related to another - less conventional - form of transport.

A limousine service seems like an audacious business venture in a country like Afghanistan. But Shams Limousine, Said Maqsud's company with a fleet of three used Lincolns shipped in from Los Angeles, appears to be doing brisk business in Kabul.

Afghans love big weddings. In the cities, families borrow money and spend up to $30,000 or more to have a "proper" wedding, and often spend the next 10 years repaying marriage debt.

Locals usually hire the luxury cars for their wedding and office parties at $140 for 10 hours. The limos come with DVD players, alcohol-free bars stacked with fancy decanters and stereos playing pop music. The cars are decorated with flowers at the florists at Shar-e-Naw, the city's high street, and then driven through Kabul's streets to weddings by the two liveried chauffeurs, Abdullah and Bismillah.

"As long as people marry, business will be good. I have no worries about security or any such thing," said Maqsud. "Locals ask me, 'Why don't you cut this into two cars and make more money?’”

In Turkmenistan, President Hamid Karzai discussed the potential creation of a rail link connecting Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Such a project would be a major economic boost to both countries, helping to find new markets for agriculture and other goods.

The aviation sector is another indication of the upward trend in Afghanistan’s economic future. The number of private airlines operating in Afghanistan will double in the near future, Aviation and Transportation Minister Niamatullah Ehsan Jawed announced recently. Three private Afghan-owned airlines— Afghan Air, Safi Air and Access Air—will soon go into business, raising the number of such companies to five. 15 companies have recently submitted applications to the Ministry of Transportation for licenses.

Afghanistan's aviation sector emerged 55 years ago when two state-run airlines - Ariana and Bakhtar - formally launched their operations. The first-ever private airline Kam Air began operation some four years ago, followed by Pamir Airlines.

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