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Facing Big Changes, Anxious Afghans Hope For The Best In 2014

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Facing Big Changes, Anxious Afghans Hope For The Best In 2014

Number Of The Year

Facing Big Changes, Anxious Afghans Hope For The Best In 2014

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.

As 2013 comes to a close, we're examining numbers that help tell the stories of the year. In Afghanistan, that number is 2014. For many Afghans, it's more than a year. It's a Sword of Damacles hanging over the fragile nation. It's the year the country will elect a successor to President Hamid Karzai. It's the year that the NATO mission ends. And it's when many people fear a door will open to chaos.

NPR's Sean Carberry explores how 2014 anxiety is affecting Afghans.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: On a chilly winter day in Kabul, it's business as usual in the city center. Here, in a stationary market, you can still buy calendars for this year - the year 1392. Afghanistan uses the Persian solar calendar, and in March, the year 1393 begins. But, for Afghans like shop owner Mohammad Kabir, it's the number 2014 that counts.

MOHAMMAD KABIR: (Through translator) I have a weird feeling when I see and think about 2014. I don't know what will happen. I hear that people are afraid about next year.

CARBERRY: Twenty-one-year-old Shabir Shakeri is a part-time designer at a nearby printing press.

SHABIR SHAKERI: (Through translator) Of course it'll be an important year. It depends on the security and political transition, and whether people elect someone good. If not, I'm afraid that we might return back to the dark days.

CARBERRY: 2014 has taken on an almost mythical stature. Many Afghans complain the media is stoking fear by focusing on worst-case scenarios of civil war or a return of the Taliban. But there are realities that can't be denied. There will be fewer foreign troops here. There will be less international aid, the Taliban vow to disrupt the presidential election in April. And there's still the question whether any foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue much-needed training of Afghan forces.

Forty-six-year-old Shaker Safdari owns a printing press in Kabul. He says his business is down 80 to 90 percent this year.

KABIR: All of the people we spoke with in the market say their businesses dropped substantially in 2013. The real estate market is in decline. The currency has lost 10 percent of its value.

CARBERRY: Mohammed Salem Omaid is the deputy CEO of Azizi Bank, the largest commercial bank in the country.

MOHAMMED SALEM OMAID: The business people, to some extent, they have stopped their investments in Afghanistan.

CARBERRY: On top of that, he says many bank customers are holding cash at home and not depositing it at the moment.

Mohammad Qurban Haqjo is head of the Afghan Chamber of Commerce.

MOHAMMAD QURBAN HAQJO: A businessman can deal with good market or bad market. But a businessman never can deal with uncertain market. Last year, more than 4,000 companies are closed.

CARBERRY: And many of those that aren't closing are looking at other markets.

HAQJO: They are taking their cash in Dubai, or elsewhere.

CARBERRY: And, he says, with consumers buying less, imports are down, and Customs revenue has dropped 30 percent. Add to that the decrease in foreign aid next year, and there's the potential for a perfect economic storm.

But it's not just the economy that is in danger. Women fear a loss in the gains they have made since the fall of the Taliban.

FAWZIA KOOFI: We have seen an increasing trend of the women's rights violation.

CARBERRY: Parliamentarian Fawzia Koofi says the stress and anxiety of the uncertain environment and growing economic challenges are leading to more domestic violence. And parliament, she says, is turning hostile, as well.

KOOFI: Some of the more conservative MPs have become more open-mouthed against women.

CARBERRY: In another sign of 2014 anxiety, Koofi says that many of her colleagues are working on exit plans in case things go south next year.


CARBERRY: But 74-year-old shopkeeper Abdul Jabbar has seen the worst of times in Afghanistan, and he says he's not worried about next year.

ABDUL JABBAR: (Foreign language spoken)

CARBERRY: We've always relied on God, he says. 2014 can't change our destiny.

Sean Carberry, NPR News, Kabul.

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