KABUL, Afghanistan – The Muslim holy feast of Eid al-Adha is a time of excess and celebration in Afghanistan, with the faithful sometimes shelling out hundreds of dollars to buy sheep and cows.
The four-day religious holiday remembers the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isma’il, when God ordered him to, even though he was given a sheep to sacrifice in the nick of time instead. As part of the annual celebration, Muslims who can afford to sacrifice domestic animals as a symbol of Ibraham’s sacrifice.
But this year’s annual celebration has been marred by a sharp economic downturn brought on by the ongoing withdrawal of foreign troops and money.
“I did sacrifice a cow last year, but it was much bigger. We bought one last year for 60,000 Afghanis ($1,100) which was twice as big as this one,” said business owner Mohammad Hakim, 30, who was negotiating the price of white cow from Kabul’s central Nakhaasanimal market on the eve of Eid. “But this year, because business is not so good, we bought a smaller animal at a much lower price.”
Like most Afghans who have tried to make a living in post-Taliban Afghanistan, Hakim links the economy’s health to the foreign military and donor-backed “war economy.” A future without the most of the 86,000 NATO and American troops currently in the country looks uncertain.
“2014 is approaching and with it the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, that’s why the economy is going down,” said Hakim as he paid 28,000 Afghanis (about $500) for a terrified looking animal. That is almost half of what he spent last year.
“There is fear. And that’s why even those who have money do not want to invest in Afghanistan,” he said.
The economy grew by 3.1 percent this year, down a sharply from 14.4 percent in 2012, according to a recent World Bank report.
So the country is teetering economically just as it is being expected to look after itself.
“The withdrawal of most international military troops as planned is expected to have a profound and lasting impact on the country’s economic and development fabric,” according to the World Bank’s Transition Assessment.
The military drawdown will most likely be accompanied by a tumbling international aid, which Afghanistan has relied on heavily since 2001, it added.
“While Afghanistan’s international partners have pledged continued support through 2016 there is a growing sense of uncertainty about Afghanistan’s stability and security in the months and years ahead,” the World Bank said.
Some are already suffering. Zemarai, a shareholder in a small construction company that builds guard towers and observation posts for the U.S. military, hasn’t sacrificed any animals this Eid.
“Since early this year, I have had no contracts, nothing,” said the 46-year-old who declined to provide a last name. “The military is pulling out, my business has completely collapsed.”
So Afghans face a future dogged by violence and systemic corruption. Coupled with that is the over-reliance on international aid and security spending, which is set to contract by more than 10 percent this year, according to World Bank.
"Afghanistan sticks out in terms of the size of its slowdown... mainly driven by increased uncertainty stemming from the political and security transition," it said.
The country’s biggest economic challenge will be to find sustainable sources of growth, the bank said. With the 2014 deadline looming, and an American government that looks increasingly tied down by domestic economic politics, it is not clear what those sources will be.
“The ‘2014 deadline’ is already here for me, and has had a very direct effect on my life and my business,” Zemarai said.
“And it is only going to get worse.”
Fazul Rahim contributed to this report.