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Selling Afghanistan

Miranda Kennedy Mar 16, 2007

Selling Afghanistan

Miranda Kennedy Mar 16, 2007


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: Last year we featured a story about Sarah Takesh. Takesh is a California-born fashion designer who fell in love with Afghanistan’s rugged beauty in 2001 just as the Taliban were being driven out. She decided to live there and she set up a high-fashion boutique in the turbulent city of Kabul. The insurgency made last year the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the war. Not surprisingly it’s been hard on Takesh and her business. Miranda Kennedy went back to Kabul to check up on her and found she has managed to survive, but just.

MIRANDA KENNEDY: When Sarah Takesh set up a high-end fashion house here, she was full of hope for the new Afghanistan.

Three years later, she’s become an institution among the wives of diplomats and other foreigners in Kabul, who make their way down a cratered road to a large mud brick house where she holds her sales.

Two armed men keep guard outside. Inside, women sift through the racks of expensive embroidered silks.

SARAH TAKESH: This is 65, we’ll just leave it at 65 and make one for you . . .

KENNEDY: Now can you shorten sleeves?

SARAH TAKESH: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah knew running a fashion boutique on streets plagued by suicide bombers would be tough. But it’s turned out to be harder than she figured, and she had to change her business plan.

Sarah says she earns better money making low-budget uniforms for Afghanistan’s new army than by selling hand-embroidered wool skirts to foreigners.

She expected to break even last year. But when her partner went to pick up a big payment from the U.S. military compound in Kabul, bandits were waiting.

TAKESH: They followed him in two unmarked vehicles, a bunch of men dressed up as police. So he turned down our street, broad daylight, and they pulled up in front of him, stuck a gun in the driver’s face and said give us the briefcase now.

They got away with $156,000 cash, and shot her partner’s brother in the leg. The police never found them, or the money.

No surprise to Sarah, who says Afghanistan is still like the Wild West, with warlords and drug lords running their empires effectively sanctioned by the government.

TAKESH: The people who are doing the robbing have deep roots on the inside of the government and they don’t get caught. They never, ever get caught.

Sarah says the level of crime and corruption make a mockery of claims by the U.S. and Afghan governments that the country’s ready for business investment. She says the changes are all cosmetic.

Sarah doesn’t know how she’ll pay her debts without the stolen money, and won’t stay if it happens again.

TAKESH: I’m not sure that’s not gonna happen again. And if it does happen again, I’m the fool for staying here.

For now, she’s toughing it out. She’s learned to bring armed guards along when she collects her payments.

In Kabul, I’m Miranda Kennedy for Marketplace.

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