Edinburgh to Kabul

 

Following
the regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society in Stockholm from August 16 –
20 I waited out the go ahead to proceed to Kabul in Edinburgh. Afghanistan’s
elections took place on the 20th and our security people wanted to
see how conditions in Kabul developed in the week following before approving my
travel. Thus I spent a week enjoying the Edinburgh Festival in the midst of a
month long orgy of music, dance, and drama. Combining the International
Festival with the Fringe Festival, there are thirty to forty performances every
day to choose from.

 

Edinburgh
is a beautiful old European city located in the lushly green rolling hills of
central eastern Scotland. The heavens watered the countryside several times
every day I was there. I was the guest of a fellow Cayman Islands Monetary
Authority director and former dean of the University of Edinburgh Law School,
whose house is in the tree lined, stately neighborhood of The Grange and close
enough to the center to walk to all of the Festival events.

 

Like
all of the U.K., Scot’s drive on the left hand side of the road. Usually that
means that pedestrians also walk on the left side of walking paths, but I could
not detect such a habit in Edinburgh. In addition to thoroughly enjoying the
Festival and walking past the flowering yards of Gothic and Georgian homes
built centuries ago, I was confused and amused by the fact that the backs of
buses liked very much like their fronts, making it all the more difficult to
figure out which way they were going, adding to my confusion over driving on
the left. Another “amusement” was the fondness of taxi drivers, like their
London counterparts, for making as many turns as possible between any two
points.

 

Twenty-four
hours after leaving Edinburgh early Thursday morning I was in Kabul (which
included a seven hour stop over in Delhi) to continue my technical assistance
to the central bank in formulating and implementing monetary policy. Delhi was
an interesting bridge between the developed West and the utterly impoverished
Afghanistan. India has been growing rapidly for almost two decades but
continues to house hundreds of millions of extremely poor people. If it can
continue to grow, this will continue to change for the better. But India
remains the most overly bureaucratized country I have ever been in. Twenty-five
or so years ago, I counted 12 checkpoints from the entrance to the Delhi
airport to the plane. This involved rechecking and rechecking the same two or
three items. Today, post 9/11 where they have new things to check for (such as
the souvenir match book in my computer case—discovered at the last check while
boarding the plane) the number of check points has been greatly reduced (to
five or six—I lost track) but still employed several dozen people just to check
me and my carry on.

 

Kabul
is a different world all together. It seems a time two thousand years earlier
and after several decades of war totally devoid of any of the simple charm it
might have once had. Though Kabul has change a lot since my first visit in
January 2002—this is my 9th visit since then—it has not been rebuilt
as much as it should have been over the past seven and a half years. You can
see earlier pictures and earlier notes at www.facebook.com/wcoats. It does
finally have a new international air terminal and a few new buildings downtown,
but is characterized by dust, ruble, and trash.

 

My
security briefing this time was longer and more restrictive than earlier. The
Table of Contents of my Briefing Notes includes, for example, “Immediate
Actions on Rocket Explosions, heavy small arms fire” and “Earthquake emergency
procedures” which seems to cover a broad range of possibilities. It includes Security
Advisory No.3, which begins with: “You will see, below, that a security
advisory has been sent out by the CSA on behalf of the DO to the SMT members
and ASCs.” ????

 

Enhanced
security is event everywhere. The security around the central bank and the car
entrance has been dramatically strengthened. I am no longer allowed to got out
of my armored car outside the gates and walk in. To enter the Governor’s office
within the bank, my brief case is now thoroughly search and I must surrender my
Blackberry and two-way radio to armed guards for the duration of my visit with
him. On the other hand a new building on the central bank grounds has been
completed and occupied and the courtyard cleaned up. It actually looks quit
nice. The old water well pump is still there and still used but now looks more
out of place.

 

During
our first meeting of this visit, the Governor, who returned from exile in the
U.S. to again lead the central bank just one week ahead of my own first arrival
in January 2002, reminisced about those early “post” Taliban days. “Everything
was so hopeful then,” he said. “Your country made a tragic mistaken to leave
Afghanistan to fight Iraq. Now look where we are.” His central bank, on the
other hand, is becoming a stronger more professional institution with every passing
year.

 

Dinner
conversations on this visit have been dominated by discussions of the still
unknown outcome of the Presidential elections held here August 20th. The
results (whether President Karzai will win out right or be required to face
Abdullah Abdullah, a former Foreign Minister, in a run off) will not be known
until after I have left. At a dinner at the Canadian Embassy (the new Canadian
Ambassador is my old friend Bill Crosbie), Mina Sherzoy made the interesting
observation that despite many allegations of significant voting fraud and
irregularities, this election represents significant progress in the
development of democratic institutions in Afghanistan. She said that the
televised sight of the President having to defend himself in debates with other
candidates and open public discussions among the population would have been
unthinkable a few years ago. Mina was born in Kabul, fled to the U.S. during
Soviet occupation and returned in 2002. She is the founder of World
Organization for Mutual Afghan Network (WOMAN), founder of Afghan Women
Business Association (AWBA) in Afghanistan, the founder of Afghan Women
Business Federation (AWBF), and a beautiful woman. She allows some of us to
hope.

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About wcoats

Dr. Warren L. Coats specializes in advising central banks on monetary policy, and in the development of their capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy. He is retired from the International Monetary Fund, where, as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department, he led missions to over twenty countries. Before then, he served as Visiting Economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and to the World Bank, and was Assistant Prof of Economics at the Univ. of Virginia from 1970-75. Most recently he was Senior Monetary Policy Advisor to the Central Bank of Iraq; an IMF consultant to the central banks of Afghanistan, Kenya and Zimbabwe; and a Deloitte/USAID advisor to the Government of South Sudan. He is currently a member of the Editorial Board of the Cayman Financial Review and until the end of 2013 was a member of the IMF program team for Afghanistan. His most recent book is entitled "One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina."
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