Expo 2020 is an opportunity for Afghanistan: Consul-General
Through its pavilion at the Expo, the South Asian country vows to tell the world its new narrative — far beyond war and conflict
The war-ravaged Afghanistan may not be pumping millions of dirhams to build a sprawling pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai — but the South Asian country promises to showcase a new dawn: A resurgent Afghanistan that has risen from the gloom and doom of the past two decades of war and conflict.
“We’ve come a long way in the past many years. Afghanistan of 2020 is not that of 1996. Our country pavilion will tell the story of hope, cooperation, and opportunity,” Afghan Consul-General in Dubai Masood Azizi told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.
From an all-women robotic team and female entrepreneurs to Afghan carpets, saffron, precious metals, agricultural products, and technology, the best of Afghan technology, culture, and heritage will be on show in good measure.
“It’s unfortunate that many associate Afghanistan with war and conflict. But we’re a proud nation that has a 5,000-year-old history. The rich cultural heritage, the varied geographical terrain, and immense tourism potential are seldom celebrated globally. We want to change that narrative and what better opportunity than the Expo when the world will flock to Dubai,” said the diplomat.
Azizi said the timing of the Expo could not have been opportune, as his country is heading close to the US-negotiated peace deal that will see American boots on the ground exit the Afghan soil by September — an extension of the May deadline that the Donald Trump administration had negotiated with the Taleban last year.
“The Dubai Expo will be a groundbreaking opportunity for us,” said Azizi.
Though the finer details are still a work in progress, the diplomat said the pavilion would beckon the world to the investment opportunities in Afghanistan.
“We’re an untapped market with cheap and efficient labour. We can be the next big manufacturing hub in South Asia. Also, the country has a huge mining potential because of its rich mineral reserves such as zinc and copper,” he added.
“People see risks. But the opportunities and returns are the highest in any post-conflict economy,” he said, pointing out the World Bank’s insurance scheme for new businesses.
The Consul-General said the Expo would be a “golden opportunity” for Afghan exporters and the UAE-based business community.
“There are over 150,000 Afghan nationals living in the UAE, out of which nearly 500 are high-net-worth individuals. The majority of them own businesses in Afghanistan, but live in the UAE.”
As per the 2019 trade figures available on the consulate’s website, Afghanistan exported goods worth Dh3.67 billion to the UAE, including gold, dry fruits, and precious and semi-precious stones.
Afghan carpets also have a huge market in the UAE.
According to a World Bank report, private sector development and diversification in the country are limited due to insecurity, political instability, weak institutions, inadequate infrastructure, widespread corruption, and a difficult business environment. Afghanistan was ranked 173rd among 190 countries in the 2020 Doing Business Survey.
Asked about the recent spate of violence and whether that could deter investors, the consul- general equivocally signed off, “This is what people say…that there will be investment opportunities if there is stability and security. But I would say, if you invest, there will be stability.”
A promise of a new dawn that Afghanistan and Afghans are waiting for since the turn of the new millennium.
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