May 3 - An Afghan government move to buy cheaper police and army boots from abroad is a body blow to a domestic manufacturer. Paul Chapman reports.
The Milli Boot Factory in Kabul's industrial hinterland has been a model of manufacturing success for Afghanistan. It had contracts with the U.S. military worth 40 million dollars a year. Now that's all gone. Police and military procurement is now in the hands of the Afghan government. They've decided to go for much cheaper options made in China and Pakistan. Factory boss Mohammed Farhad Saffi says he was led to believe they'd have orders for another two years at least. SOUNDBITE: MOHAMMAD FARHAD SAFFI, PRESIDENT OF THE MILI BOOTS FACTORY SAYING (English): "According to the paper work we had to get orders until 2014 but in 2012 suddenly… We already purchased raw material for about like worth of like thirty million dollars. We bought raw materials, everything, to manage our production line for 2012 to deliver on time for the Afghan military." NATO-led forces, which also handled purchasing for Afghan security forces during the war, have operated under an 'Afghan First' principle since 2010. Contracts for everything from uniforms to textiles, tents, furniture and software have generated 15, 000 jobs. That's also helped counter temptation to join the Afghan Taliban which pays its fighters 10 dollars a day. Now some of the Milli Boot Factory's workers say that may be their only option. SOUNDBITE: ARES KHAN, EMPLOYEE AT THE MILLI FACTORY, SAYING (Pashto): "Around 630 people worked here, but now this factory is closing. We urge the government to reopen it. If they don't we'll have to join the Taliban for a job." Afghanistan's military procurement chief said Milli had been re-branding poor-quality foreign imports, a charge denied by the NGO, Building Markets. Some observers say Milli and other firms may have fallen foul of Afghanistan's labyrinth of bribe and patronage payments. Milli isn't alone in losing out to foreign competition. Many business leaders and workers also fear the departure of most NATO combat troops in 2014 will see job opportunities and investment dollars go with them. Paul Chapman, Reuters.