Guns and things

Sorry to dwell on guns and traffic, but they are the two
most conspicuous features of Kabul along with the utter poverty and collapsed
structures everywhere. I just came back from a little walk up and down my
street and a few side streets. They are all enclosed at either end with
barricades and armed guards. My street, on which sits the IMF guesthouse, has
six barricades spaced out from one end to the other, two with zig zig concrete
approaches, a dozen armed pillboxes and about 50 or 60 armed guards. Behind the
sand bags and high concrete walls are houses like mine, the Canadian Embassy,
the British Embassy, the World Bank and a few others. You can’t see any of them
from the street. The side streets are even more cluttered with barriers. The
guards find my strolls amusing, I think, as they wave me on through their
respective checkpoints with a smile. The weather out today is wonderful. The
nearby Himalayan Mountains—the other most conspicuous feature of Kabul—were
shining beautifully in the sun.

Guns—AK 47s mainly—are everywhere, inside the central bank
and out. You just get used to it. Driving between the IMF guesthouse and the
central bank we always pass a number of pickup trucks with three or four guys
in the back with machine guns. Some are police. Some are dressed in black with
black masks covering their entire faces (not just their mouths cowboy style).
It can be kind of spooky. The masked ones are not as usual.

As usual, there are several Canadians staying in our
guesthouse. These guys are preparing for a major irrigation/farming project
near Kandahar that involves repairing a damn and levies, introducing more
efficient irrigation techniques and equipment, training maintenance people, working
with farmers to introduce new crops (poppies don’t need much water so this
opens up broader options), adjustments in processing plants, establishing markets
for the new crops and transportation to get them there, and political
negotiations with the surrounding village chiefs to obtain their buy in and
cooperation (some of the land along the waterway is owned by Taliban). My
Canadian friends commented how shockingly large a share of the project’s costs
went for security (one of their cars had already been hit by gun fire). I
replied that five years from now a congressional (Parliamentary) inquiry would
notice and refer to the large and wasteful payments to securities contractors
who made big profits (if they survived). Did someone think we could have a war cheaply? A private American security company has gotten into trouble here recently. I hope this does not give outsourcing a bad name because it is generally a very good and efficient thing to do.

Traffic has gone from bad to worse. The economy is
growing rapidly (around 10 percent per year for the last seven years) and
people keep buying more cars. But as security has deteriorated, more and more
roads are closed to regular traffic or more checkpoints erected, so more cars
are trying to travel fewer roads. Those still moving their commerce by donkey
cart and wheel borrow have an advantage. The IMF has three heavy armored cars
with three very skilled drivers. In my seven and a half years of coming here
never once have they hit or even grazed anything (or anyone). Thus I guess I
can still believe in miracles.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

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