As US draws down, can Ghani brake Afghanistan’s economic slide?

A poverty-stricken country family in Afghanistan. Photograph: Massoud Hossaini/AFP/Getty Images

For almost two years now, Javed Jami has watched business evaporate. His logistics company once employed 350 drivers and 150 administrative workers to operate a fleet of 500 trucks that delivered fuel and supplies to foreign forces throughout Afghanistan at the height of the war.

But like countless other businesses that depended on foreign troops, when the drawdown began Mr. Jami watched his customers leave the country. Jami has since fired about 85 percent of his staff and is trying to sell 400 of his trucks, most of which he expects to let go for half price. By downsizing Jami hopes his firm, Faisal Mohammedi Group, can survive on the few remaining contracts to support international troops.

In the mud lot behind his office, scores of tightly parked trucks now sit idle. “In previous years this lot would have been empty because all of the trucks would have been out working. There would have been a lot of noise from all the mechanics working,” he says.

President Obama said Tuesday that US troop levels in Afghanistan would remain this year at 9,800, a slower drawdown than previously announced, but said all bases outside Kabul would be closed by the end of 2016. He spoke after meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House.

Like other businesses here, Jami’s logistics firm faces a new economic reality left by the end of America’s nearly $1 trillion war effort. After this unprecedented flood of cash, Afghanistan has seen a sharp reduction in foreign spending, resulting in the elimination of an estimated 100,000 to 135,000 jobs.

Now the question is whether the nation fashion a functional economy on its own, something it has not been able to do up to this point. If the country doesn’t succeed, it may see many of the political and social gains achieved over the last decade begin to slip away.

“We are one of the countries where our economy has completely failed and we are trying to build it from the ground up,” says Saifuddin Saihun, a professor of economics at Kabul University…

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