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The Long View (in Afghanistan)

7 April 2020

The Long View (in Afghanistan)

When you work in a volatile country like Afghanistan, how do you know when to invest and move more people in, or when to hold back and take stock? Just ask Atmospherics Unlimited. 

Bellwood Prestbury client, Atmospherics Unlimited, works with foreign government donors, NGOs and corporate clients to help them gauge the prospects for successful projects and business ventures. This can be prior to project kick-off or market entry, or building risk management strategies once they arrive. 

Erin Steele, VP Operations, says their work relies on the company’s long-standing presence in Afghanistan, passion for helping clients achieve their goals under challenging circumstances, and most importantly, its talented and dedicated local team members. 

Q: What do clients need to know about the political landscape? 

A: “When organisations like DFID, USAID or other large donors are making decisions about medium- to long-term developments, they need to take a view on the likely political, security and socio-economic stability. And they need to keep abreast of changes as they occur. 

“My partner and I have been working in Afghanistan since 2005 and we established our company in Kabul in 2011, building up an extensive network countrywide. This allows us to maintain awareness of what is happening and to understand the ‘ground truth’, so we can advise our clients on vital issues such as when to invest, when to expand operations, or when to consider alternate operations. 

Q: Where is Afghanistan at right now? 

A: “At the start of 2020, we find ourselves in the wake of an unresolved Afghan Presidential election, the conduct of which was predictably messy. It’s unclear when the elections will be settled, so there is definitely a bit of uncertainty at the moment. 

“This kind of political uncertainty often makes it harder to get commitments on aid and development projects. It can interrupt the creation of new projects and prevent funding from finding its way to the right places. More importantly, it can compromise security and make certain areas unsafe for foreign nationals or people associated with foreign-funded projects. 

“Obviously we advise on a project-by-project basis. There are some fantastic initiatives in health, education, technology and business that are making great strides. But our clients are rightly cautious at the moment. 

Q: Have you experienced security issues yourself? 

A: “Fortunately, we have mostly avoided them. However, one of my team members and I found ourselves in the thick of it in September 2019, when the international accommodation compound we were staying at in Kabul was attacked. It began when a large-sized vehicle-borne IED breached the compound perimeter, which allowed gunmen to attack on the ground. 

“We followed protocol and locked ourselves in a secure bunker. A 12-hour gunfight ensued before the all-clear was given. 

“It’s a sobering experience, and not one I care to repeat, but if you have prepared properly, and have proper security plans in place, you know you can get through it. 

Q: How do you feel about the future in Afghanistan? 

A: “Despite the challenges that lay ahead, there is a real sense that 2020 may be a game-changer for the country. Although there are still some hurdles to clear, we foresee Afghanistan’s Presidential elections resolving peacefully and some sort of meaningful reduction in violence to emerge from the resurrected US peace process with the Taleban. 

“Despite the current impasse at government level and global tensions in the wider Central and South Asia region, I am reasonably optimistic about the future here.” 

Erin Steele is VP Operations of Atmospherics Unlimited.

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