Will van Engen for National Post
Farhad Saafi, 23, reopened his father’s long-shuttered clothing factory after a Canadian NGO funded by CIDA tipped him off about an army boot tender. When the contract is over, he plans to “put a big padlock on the gate.”
In the 10 years since the invasion of Afghanistan, foreign donors — including Canada — have spent more than US$57-billion in aid there. But what kind of country is Canada leaving behind?
As the recipient of the 2011 Michener-Deacon Fellowship for public service journalism, which underwrote her research, Jane Armstrong spent seven weeks in Afghanistan this summer assessing what Canada’s aid contribution has achieved. This is the final part of a four-day series.
KABUL • The assembly line at Farhad Saafi’s factory outside Kabul is running full tilt once again. Afghan workers are bent over a conveyor belt, pasting rubber soles to suede army boots. Mr. Saafi hired 700 employees to work 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, to meet his production deadline.
Kabul Melli Trading won a multimillion-dollar U.S. military contract to produce 200,000 boots for the Afghan National Army. The deal resurrected a clothing factory founded by Mr. Saafi’s father in 1979, but idled by decades of war.
That feat put his 23-year-old son in rare company. Most military and reconstruction contracts go to Western companies, leaving Afghan businesses out in the cold.
A Canadian non-governmental organization, Peace Dividend Trust (PDT), tipped off Mr. Saafi about the boot tender and helped him win the business.
The achievement means jobs and profits stay in Afghanistan, Mr. Saafi says.
“Now the army can say, ‘These boots were made in Afghanistan.’ I provided jobs to 700 people — all Afghans.”
Kabul Melli Trading is a rare Afghan business success story. But the source of Mr. Saafi’s good fortune won’t last forever. Western military and aid money, which has sustained the Afghan economy for a decade, has peaked.