Monday, September 11, 2006

Red Flag over Kabul


A new, highly secure Coca-Cola plant has opened in Kabul, says an Associated Press report on

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- A sniper on the gleaming Coca-Cola factory's roof peers through his gun sight over Kabul's bullet-pocked suburbs, searching for any hint of a terrorist threat.

In a parking lot festooned with red Coke flags, an American dog handler barks commands at journalists being frisked by Afghan security agents.

In strife-ridden Afghanistan, this is how even the most positive of events -- like Sunday's opening of a new $25 million Coca-Cola production plant -- are handled. Even more so when pro-U.S. Afghan President Hamid Karzai attends.

But according to Karzai, more business openings and investments of this kind will lead to a downturn in Afghanistan's violence, which has reached its deadliest proportions since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden.

"This is another step forward for economic growth, self-sufficiency and better living standards for Afghanistan," Karzai said in a speech inside the plant, where 350 people had new jobs.

The old Coke plant was destroyed, along with most of the rest of Kabul, during the mid-1990s civil war. Thank Habibullah Gulzar, an Afghan expatriate who’s made good in Dubai, for funding the new plant, which can produce some mind-boggling number of cases of fizzy sugar water each year.

However, the CNN story quotes one Afghan who thinks the Coke plant is a sign of misplaced priorities:

Across town, Jomaa Gul saw things differently. The unemployed 34-year-old lives in the ruins of what was once the administration block of Coca Cola's last production plant in Kabul.

Gul's father worked at the 40-year-old plant before it was ravaged by artillery fire. ... The younger Gul's family and four others moved into the bombed-out building because they had no other place to go.

Afghanistan needs new hospitals and an end to violence, not investment for soft drinks, Gul said.

"But now we have no running water, no electricity and no sanitation," Gul said as he kicked a dust-covered glass Coca-Cola bottle through a patch of weeds in the loading bay where trucks once took the soft drink away. "Hospitals and security are more worthy investments for $25 million than a soft drink plant."

I’d like to agree with Gul—who wouldn’t rather see the problems he mentions addressed today, and who wouldn’t like to see tool-and-die makers rather than soft-drink bottlers?—but then, the U.S. had practically no public hospitals until a tax base existed to support them. Hopefully the Coke plant survives the inevitable attacks long enough to prove Kabul is safe for large-scale business (snipers and bomb-sniffing dogs notwithstanding) and heralds an increase in local tax collection and employment.

1 comment:

TylerD said...

I guess Pepsi gets Baghdad.

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