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Business Realities in Uncertain Times: Risks and Rewards of Entrepreneurship in Post-War Afghanistan

   Akun came to Afghanistan from China to do business one year after the Taliban came to power.
   He was in the gem business and wanted to see the spot. He heard that local security had improved significantly, so he went to Afghanistan at the invitation of his business partner.
  In fact, it’s just better than before. United Nations data shows that from August 2021 to May 2023, a total of 1,095 civilians died in terrorist attacks in Afghanistan. According to United Nations estimates, more than 3,000 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2020.
   The country still faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. According to the United Nations, 70% of the 40 million Afghans rely on aid to survive, and 6 million people face famine.
   Going to such a country, what kind of business opportunities can the Chinese find in Afghanistan? What kind of problems will you encounter?
  Brilliant Gemstones
   There are still dangers when doing business in Afghanistan.
   Just after Akun arrived in Afghanistan, on December 12, 2022, three armed men opened fire in a hotel in Kabul run by a Chinese businessman. The gun battle lasted for an hour, with more than a dozen explosions and five people injured.
   Meng Xiaoli, a Chinese businessman who is doing power supply business in Afghanistan with her husband, mentioned in an interview with Phoenix TV that in 2018, the glass of a store behind their market was blown off. They were worried about terrorist attacks, so they spent 2,000 US dollars to build a bulletproof door. “It should be a 12-centimeter steel plate. The AK47 needs to be concentrated on a certain point and fired many times to penetrate it.” After
   the Taliban came to power, Afghanistan’s security was relatively better. “Many explosions were caused by the Taliban before. After they came to power, they stopped bombing.” When talking about the reasons for the decrease in explosions in the past two years, Ahmed explained this. He studied abroad at Renmin University of China and now works for the United Nations Afghan Refugee Group.
   However, due to perennial civil strife, complex armed forces, and the activities of the extremist organization “Islamic State” in Afghanistan, conflicts and violent attacks continue. There are more than 100 Chinese people in Kabul. The staff of the Chinese Embassy in Afghanistan created a group for them and issued safety tips from time to time.
   Akun still stayed. Risks and opportunities always go together. He began searching for gems in Afghanistan.
   Gemstones are one of the most popular businesses for Afghans. Gem mining in Afghanistan has a long history, dating back to the time of Alexander the Great some 2,300 years ago. By the 10th century, the gem mines in northern and eastern Afghanistan were famous for their production of rubies, sapphires, tourmalines, lapis lazuli, and topaz. In the 20th century, the Russians completed and published a book called “Gemstones of Afghanistan”, which became the “Bible” for finding gemstones in Afghanistan.
   By now, the gem trade has become an important part of Afghanistan’s economic output. Al Jazeera reported that in 2019, precious metals, gems and jewelry accounted for 45% of Afghanistan’s total legal exports, with a total value of US$1 billion. After the Taliban came to power, they took control of the gem business. Businessmen from European and American countries gradually withdrew from Afghanistan. The US Agency for International Development canceled all gem contracts. For some Chinese businessmen, a commercial vacuum has been left. The rulers of Afghanistan are relatively friendly to the Chinese. Yu Yong, a Chinese businessman doing ore business in Afghanistan, remembers that five days after occupying Kabul, Taliban staff visited his office and promised him that the projects approved by the previous government were still valid. Moreover, they also said that Afghanistan will focus on mineral resources in the future and welcome Yu Yong to continue investing.
   Akun found that although Afghanistan’s order is fragile and its economy is very backward, Afghans still show strong resilience. Afghans love doing business. They have been an important stop on the Silk Road for thousands of years. Basically, when children are not studying, they are doing business. “When you go to a market, all the stores are run by the same family, and they all work in the same industry.” Akun said that when he went to the countryside, many people he met were willing to discuss business with him, and they also They are very enthusiastic and often introduce business partners to him.
   In the countryside of Afghanistan, Akun tasted special grapes and watched horse racing. He took up the online name “Cowboy with Broken Wings” and posted the humanistic customs he recorded on the short video platform. He joked to himself that “Douyin has become the main business now, and it takes more time than making gemstones.”
  Gold Diggers:
   Afghanistan is poor, but there are still mines at home.
   In addition to its gemstone deposits, Afghanistan is also known as the “Saudi Arabia of lithium mining.” U.S. military officials and geological experts say Afghanistan contains $1 trillion worth of mineral resources, including iron, copper, rare earths and lithium. The lithium deposits rival Bolivia’s, which has the world’s largest known lithium reserves.
   In the past, security challenges, lack of infrastructure and severe droughts have hampered the extraction of this most valuable mineral. The Paper quoted US media sources as saying that although this situation is unlikely to change soon under the control of the Taliban, countries including China, Pakistan and India are still very interested.
   When the new energy vehicle industry is booming in 2021 and 2022, the price of lithium ore, its battery manufacturing material, has also skyrocketed, quadrupling in two years. Akun recalled that many Chinese came to Afghanistan to mine lithium mines at that time.
   “In such a post-war country, there are countless business opportunities, the most prominent of which is the mining industry.” Yu Yong said in an interview with the media that the Taliban currently lacks funds and is likely to vigorously support the development of mining.
   Another Chinese businessman, Yu Minghui, also believes that there are many business opportunities in Afghanistan. He feels that no matter who is in power, “As long as economic development and trade are needed, China and Chinese businessmen are indispensable to Afghanistan.”
   Chinese businessman Sun Fei even said Finding new opportunities after the Taliban came to power, he began acting as an intermediary between local Taliban officials and Chinese investors. In the past two years, as the situation in Afghanistan has improved, more and more Chinese businessmen have followed his footsteps and tried their luck in Afghanistan. According to the US media VICE, at least 200 Chinese businessmen arrived in Afghanistan within a year of the Taliban coming to power.
   However, the future of doing business in this chaotic country is unknown. You never know which one will come first, opportunity or being cheated.
   Chinese people are often cheated when doing business in Afghanistan. According to Akun, in 2022, a vice president of a state-owned enterprise in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, retired and came to Afghanistan, hoping to engage in rare earth mining. When he came here, the local officials “served” him very well. Every time he drove out, there was a huge crowd, and there were security guards at the front and back. He was very respectable, but nothing could be done. They just tried every means to make him spend money. Rent a house, buy a car.
   In January this year, he was defrauded of all his money, and he understood it himself. “We tried to persuade him, but he wouldn’t listen. Finally, I realized that he had been defrauded of US$50,000.”
   Security is still a knife hanging over the heads of Chinese businessmen. Chinese businessman Sun Fei often worries about his safety. “I was afraid to even go out,” he said.
   Even if you can go out, there are great restrictions. Akun wanted to go to the countryside to look for some opportunities, but found that for the first time, he needed someone to follow him. If he went frequently in the future, he would need to register with the intelligence department, and he must be accompanied by a translator – this person was also from the intelligence department.
   This is also a country that is getting increasingly boring. Due to Taliban policy restrictions, there are no entertainment facilities such as KTV or cinemas in Kabul. Locals pass the time by playing ball, drinking tea, and smoking hookah, while Chinese in Kabul gather to play mahjong. Akun was not interested in any of this, so he could only choose to sleep.
   In Afghanistan, Akun saw dangers, opportunities, chaos, some spontaneous order and the struggle of Afghans in such an environment. Like many other Chinese businessmen, he remains local and looks for more opportunities.

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