Noorullah Delawari said on Saturday he has a vision of a self-sufficient Afghanistan that will not allow bureaucracy to get in the way of building production capacity.

"My problem is with lack of capacity. ... President Karzai is struggling with government agencies, some of the ministries are not doing the kind of work, the practical things, to remove obstacles and provide opportunities," the former commercial banker said.

Delawari returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after spending 35 years abroad, which included over 25 years experience in commercial banking, with 16 at Lloyds Bank in California.

He says he is determined to use the aid now coming in to good effect.

"Take advantage of the good times while you are in the spotlight," Delawari said.

"I believe we can do it. We could take advantage of this window of opportunity in the next three to five years. We have the resources to become at least 75-80% self-supporting, self-reliant."

Major problem

 

After 25 years of war, poverty is still a major problem in Afghanistan. According to the World Bank, only 13% of the population having access to safe water and 12% to adequate sanitation.

 

Foreign aid has amounted to $11.9 billion since 2002 and the government has drawn up a five-year-plan aiming for annual growth of 10%.

 

"The fact is we are a recipient of a very large amount of foreign aid, it brings a lot of foreign exchange, that's our current account, that's our revenue," Delawari said, noting that Afghanistan's exports stand at about $500 million while imports are officially close to $3 billion.

 

The infrastructure needs a lot of
attention after 25 years of war

He thinks the figure probably exceeds $4 billion.

 

"In the short-term we need to improve our exports ... agri-business and hand-made products will create a lot of jobs and fairly good income for the country."

"Second, I believe Afghanistan could be a major player in exploring and exploiting our natural resources."

"We have potential to develop 25,000 MW of electricity ... We may use 10,000 MW, the rest could be exported to energy-hungry countries like Pakistan and India."

While Afghanistan's infrastructure needs significant attention, Delawari does not see it as a mission in itself.

"Infrastructure is a subjective matter. Building roads, bridges and telecommunications and so on, those are fine ... but I want to spend more serious time on practical aspects of our growth, to remove obstacles, improve efficiency, to produce, to create jobs, move towards a more self-sustained economy."

 

Production opportunities

 

"You have to create production opportunities. That's equally important to building roads and bridges," Delawari said.

 

GDP in Afghanistan has averaged 17% over the past four years, Delawari said. The IMF is forecasting 11.7% growth this year.

"I'm convinced we could be a big player in the region. We have quite a bit of natural gas ... We have iron ore and copper."

Massive foreign aid has helped
restore a modicum of normalcy

But the impact of the Taliban insurgency in the south and east was having a severe economic impact, he said.

"If we didn't have this security concern I could see really good investment opportunities, and investment coming," Delawari said.

 

He is also striving to reduce Afghanistan's administrative procedures.

"We have had layers of very diverse types of government ... each one of these governments have left their residue in the system. To deal with it, to remove it, takes a little time."

"This is an opportunity to me that I couldn't buy with any amount in America," he said of his job. "To do what you really want to do ... you're helping humanity, helping a country which was so beaten down."