Cablegate: Afghans in Tajikistan -- Ready for Business

DE RUEHDBU #0860/01 1610745
R 100745Z JUN 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

DUSHANBE 00000860 001.2 OF 002

1. (SBU) Summary: While a common perception amongst Tajik
officials and academics is that the Afghans are all poor, coming
from a war-torn country with little education and healthcare,
Afghan businessmen are surprisingly successful and growing
wealthy in Tajikistan, and they have an equally dim view of
Tajiks. Indeed, according to Afghan businessmen in Dushanbe,
all the Tajik government needs to do to promote cross-border
trade is stop being corrupt, open the border, and get out of
their way. End Summary.

Afghans Dominate Wholesale Food
2. (SBU) According to Dr. Ata Mohammad Ghaznawi, Commercial
Attache of the Afghanistan embassy (and successful businessman
in his own right), the Tajiks, "would not be able to eat without
the Afghans." According to Ghaznawi, besides the roughly 2000
small Afghan businesses (legal and illegal), there are about one
hundred Afghan wholesalers that dominate approximately 75
percent of imported foodstuffs throughout Tajikistan. A brief
tour of the Afghan warehouses in downtown Dushanbe, re-stocked
daily from larger warehouses outside the city, showed vast
supplies of vegetable oils, rice, and sugar from Dubai, wheat
from Kazakhstan, and tea, cookies, candies, soaps, and
detergents from Iran. Tajik middlemen buy their goods from the
Afghan wholesalers around 4:00 AM, and then sell them to small
retail traders in kiosks at local bazaars.

3. (SBU) Besides food and some dry goods, there is a robust
trade in contraband cigarettes from Dubai, Pakistan via
Afghanistan to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and
Kazakhstan. According to Dr. Ghaznawi, about 50,000 cartons of
cigarettes a month pass through Tajikistan's contraband markets.

Corruption and Diplomatic Fall-out
4. (SBU) Afghan success seems to be resented and exploited by
various levels of the Dushanbe city government. The Afghan
wholesalers settled in Tajikistan during the late Soviet Union
and early 1990s and concentrated their businesses near a
multi-story shopping complex called Sadbarq (now often called
the "Afghan bazaar"). Sadbarq has often been a bone of
contention with the Dushanbe city government. Afghan
businessmen made a deal in the 1990s where they could use the
market after they refurbished it. After it was remodeled, the
city tried to take it back and it is still unclear who
technically owns it.

5. (SBU) While Tajik women run the kiosks in Sadbarq, the kiosks
and their goods belong to Afghans. A 2001 car bomb near the
bazaar was believed to be connected to a commercial dispute with
an Afghan, and the city government tried to evict many of the
traders and move them to a remote outdoor bazaar on the
outskirts of the city the same year. Since then, Afghan
wholesalers have complained of regular shake-downs by the
police. (Post will report septel on recent round-ups of Afghan
refugees and asylum seekers, many of them picked up from the
Afghan dominated markets.)

6. (SBU) These shake-downs almost threatened Tajik-Afghan
relations two years ago. By the time Dr. Ghaznawi arrived as
Commercial Attache in Dushanbe in 2005, extortions took place on
a weekly basis. Ghaznawi recounted one particularly grizzly
tale which involved a Dushanbe police officer holding a
tazer-gun to an Afghan wholesaler's genitals until the Afghan
paid out $8,000 to the policeman. Dr. Ghaznawi claims that he
personally threatened the Tajik Minister of Interior that he
would close the border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan and
tell President Rahmon publicly how Afghan businessmen are abused
if the Minister did not find a way to stop the weekly extortion.
The next week, according to Ghaznawi, the policeman returned
the money to the Afghan wholesaler, apologized, and such
large-scale extortions with impunity have declined.

Why Tajik Wholesale Traders Are Less Successful in Tajikistan
--------------------------------------------- --------------
7. (SBU) In discussing the difference in Tajik and Afghan
traders with Ghaznawi, his deputy trade attache at the Afghan
embassy Rangebar Samay, and later with two Afghan traders, they
seemed to regard the Tajiks' minimal role in the wholesale
market almost as a moral failing. Despite the long civil war in
Afghanistan, they claim the Afghans are still capable of
trusting each other. The informal hawala banking system works

DUSHANBE 00000860 002.2 OF 002

quickly and efficiently with little more than someone's good
word and a phone call to a designated country to deliver the
promised money, according to the Afghans. The Tajiks, according
to Ghaznawi, lack trust and know that they are unreliable even
to each other. "They are neither communist, nor Muslim, but
something in between." Lack of trust and ambiguous moral values
have made Tajik society unable to function properly and impede
business, he said. The main difference between Afghans and
Tajiks, according to Ghaznawi and Samay, is that Afghans
understand risk and how to take care of themselves
independently. "War is risk and business is risk - this is

8. (SBU) Moreover, according to Ghaznawi, Tajiks and Afghans
differ in sales strategies as well. He explained that an Afghan
will only mark up the price of a product by 20%, but hope to
sell a lot of them. A Tajik, however, will take the same good
and mark up the price by 80%, but only sell a few of them. It
was generally agreed among the Afghans that Tajik businesses are
greedy, do not know how to deal in large volumes, and lack
management skills. (Comment: Post's observations support the
lack of capacity and ability to handle supply chains or volume.
End comment.)

Outstanding Problems with Tajikistan Government
--------------------------------------------- --------------
9. (SBU) The commercial attache and his deputy both bemoaned
that Tajikistan was not more accommodating to Afghan investors
and businessmen. Afghans were not included on the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs' recently approved list of nations allowed to
receive visas without invitations at the Dushanbe airport. It
chagrined them that they were the most important traders in
Tajikistan to meet the Tajik population's daily needs and yet
they were not welcome. Moreover, getting a Tajik visa in Kunduz
and Kabul not only takes a long time, it costs $200-$300 more
than the $60 official rate, even after they show their official
status as businessmen with business licenses, business
passports, and proof they paid business taxes in Afghanistan.
Once Afghan businessmen arrive in Dushanbe, registration costs
$35 per month. More than twenty Afghan companies have been
waiting over a year to register at the Ministry of Justice, and
have received no explanation for the delay. They were not too
concerned about Tajik regulations on imports by "Gosstandart" or
the lack of a transit agreement between Tajikistan and Pakistan
and its implications for transit in Afghanistan, since "a
hundred dollars at the border will fix that."

Brief Biography of Dr. Ata Mohammad Ghaznawi
--------------------------------------------- --------------
10. (SBU) After high school in Afghanistan, Ghaznawi joined the
Soviet-backed Afghan army and got a scholarship to obtain a
Ph.D. in economics in Moscow. He met his future wife at the
same university. He moved to Tajikistan in 1988, opened his
first business in 1990 with $300 of jeans and goods from
Thailand and Dubai. Over the next couple of years he traded
jeans for aluminum ingots from TadAZ (now Talco), among other
barter transactions, and made a fortune -- so much that he has
an outstanding business dispute with a Tajik office supply
company on Rudaki for $7 million dating back to 1991 that has
yet to be resolved. (Comment: That's a lot of jeans and
aluminum. End Comment.)

11. (SBU) By 1992, when the Tajik civil war started, he moved
his family to Almaty, Kazakhstan. He gained refugee status in
the Netherlands and lived there four years, while keeping his
businesses running in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, and then
finally moved to the United States when his company had a
contract with the Pentagon. He received a green card in 2001.
He said he feels that he has two nationalities - Afghan and
American - and what he likes most about America is having human
rights, the freedom to have a business, and protection from the
law. Still, as an Afghan from a war torn country, he claims that
he fears nothing. He is also opening a 240-room hotel in Kabul
called the Sultan Palace Hotel in a few months.

© Scoop Media

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