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Friday, 13 September, 2002, 22:54 GMT 23:54 UK
Kabul's bustling money market thrives
Money changers in Kabul
The Afghan currency's value has fallen dramatically

War, death, destruction and poverty have become synonymous with Afghanistan.


If our luck is shining on us we can make some money, otherwise not

Qazi Imam Jan, money-changer

But a visit to the Sarai Shahzada market in the heart of Kabul belies that image.

Millions of dollars - rather than the national currency, the afghani - change hands here daily.

The market comprises some 300 small shops and thousands of dealers.

The locals say the place has always remained busy, even during years of factional fighting.

The hustle and bustle is enough to surprise visitors.

The entrance to the market is also crowded by dozens of currency dealers, carrying a calculator in one hand and a bundle of afghanis, Iranian tumans and Pakistani rupees.

Some set up their stalls on the ground.

The dollars, being worth more, are kept in their pockets.

Every foreigner is their natural target.

Afghanis redenominated

Those who decide to change their currency inside the market for a slightly better return, are thoroughly searched by guards posted at the narrow entrance gate.

Crowd at a Kabul market
Despite war damage, business is thriving

Inside, different currencies are being exchanged in millions. The Afghan national currency has shed so much value over the last few decades that even millions put together cannot buy you much.

The main problem dealers face is totting them up. But they are used to counting millions of afghanis with professional exactness in a matter of minutes, with a peculiar hissing noise.

But that will soon become a lot easier with Kabul's decision to re-denominate its currency from 7 October.

One new afghani will be equal to 1,000 old afghanis.

The Governor of Afghanistan's central bank, Anwarul Haq Ahadi, told the BBC the move to change the currency was to make dealing in them easy and less expensive.

"This will also help us realise how much of the afghani is really in circulation, said Mr Ahadi, who holds a doctorate from a US university.

He said the bank operated no private accounts at the moment.

Opportunists

It seems as though all the afghanis in the world have flooded Kabul's money market now.

Mohammad Niamat, a money changer in Sarai Shahzada, said around $1 million changed hands daily in the market.

The market is connected to the rest of the world through telephones.

He also admitted to the continued practice of money-laundering (hawala, as it is locally known ) across the world despite American attempts to stop this undocumented transfer of money.

Many dealers are opportunists, coming in to cash in on the slightest improvement in the afghani's value.

"If our luck is shining on us we can make some money, otherwise not," said Alhaj Qazi Imam Jan.

It is also a business, and some make millions while others lose their hundreds, he said.

Taking advantage of my presence in the market, I too thought of converting some Pakistani rupees into afghanis.

In return for 500 rupees, I got back 380,000 afghanis, which of course I had to count laboriously on my own.


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See also:

04 Sep 02 | Business
03 Sep 02 | Business
02 Sep 02 | September 11 one year on
22 Jul 02 | Business
04 Feb 02 | South Asia
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
19 Sep 01 | Business
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