In a way, the market serves as a microeconomic barometer of the concerns of Afghans across class lines when 2014 ends — and with it, the U.S.-led coalition’s combat mission. President Obama’s announcement in his State of the Union address Tuesday of the accelerated pullout of 34,000 troops in the coming year has only heightened many merchants’ worries about what happens after Western forces finally step on their air hose of cash and material support.
“My business once was good,” lamented a shop owner named Sabor, standing next to a shelf packed with Stridex acne pads and Just for Men hair dye. “But it has become a depression.”
Several vendors said sales have already fallen by 50 percent since last year as the “surge” troops that began arriving in 2009 have departed. The amount of military goods available to be pilfered has dropped, they said, and prices have gone up. Also, fewer foreign development workers come to shop for familiar Western brands.
“If Obama had announced, ‘I don’t want to withdraw the soldiers,’ business would grow,” said Sabor, 47, who goes by one name and is among the Afghans who oppose a pullout, despite President Hamid Karzai’s fervid argument — repeated last week — that it is long overdue.
Sabor credited the 11-year U.S. presence with bringing his war-ravaged country increased security, opportunities for girls and women, and a functional government.
“Some people say that Americans should leave this country, but it is a loss for us,” he said.
Others in the bazaar, like 20-year-old Samiullah, clad in a T-shirt sporting a fake U.S. Army logo, said they trust their fates to a power higher than the American greenback.
“God is kind, and if Obama doesn’t give us bread, God will give us bread,” he said.
A warren of some 600 shops and stalls, Bush Market also exemplifies in miniature the massive corruption that has flourished with the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars in military and development aid to Afghanistan, where skimming Yankee dollars is common from the very top social rungs on down.
Most shopkeepers expressed ignorance about the origin of their goods. But as one longtime merchant explained, Afghans who get military-base jobs are ingenious when it comes to obtaining five-finger discounts on bulk items.
Trash trucks leave U.S. installations with crates of supplies concealed under tarps, said the merchant, who declined to be identified.