Wikileaks hints at an improving Afghan economy

Steven Powell Former federal prosecutor
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While most of the fallout from the Wikileaks scandal has been negative, the documents do shed a little hope on an improving Afghan economy.

One of the leaked documents shows Marriott Hotels invested $80 million to build a hotel and expand operations into Afghanistan. Construction started last spring and is expected to be completed by the end of 2010, according to a Marriott press release.

Another document shows that David Murdock, chairman of Dole Foods Company, visited Afghanistan in 2007 to discuss a potential Afghan presence for the company. On May 13, 2007, Murdock toured land set aside by Balkh Gov. Atta Muhammad Noor for Dole investment, according to a May 23, 2007 report.

A press release from the Afghan Embassy said Murdock “expressed his intent to explore a major Dole presence in Afghanistan.”

Whatever happened to the potential deal is unknown, since the investment seems to have slipped through the cracks and Dole won’t respond to questions concerning the matter. But the fact that Dole was looking to have a presence in Afghanistan is itself a small glimmer of good news.

Lars Anderson, deputy director of press at USAID, said in an email to The Daily Caller the Afghan economy has actually been growing at a constant rate for the past few years. Since 2007, the GDP has grown at an average rate of 10 percent a year since 2003, according to Anderson. In addition, GDP per capita has doubled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The country’s 2009 GDP ranks 113 in the world at $23.35 billion, according to the CIA World Factbook. GDP per capita is still lagging at $800, ranked 219 in the world.

The CIA Factbook attributes a recovery of the agricultural industry as one of the reasons for the growing economy. However, the report points out the country’s progress is still largely dependent on foreign aid.

One such program lending a hand to the country is the Kabul International Ag Fair. The fair – a project assisted by USAID – ran yearly from 2007-2009, attracting 40,000 to 60,000 visitors through two days. According to the Ag Fair’s website, the festival’s even attracted an American sponsor – the Afghan affiliate of U.S. based Coca-Cola.

Anderson said the largest progress is in the urban and stable areas of the North, with the rest of the country still in need of attention.

“Although they have a long way to go, the Afghans are putting the basics into place and making real gains,” he said in the email.