HERAT -- As peace talks progress between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Ministry of Industry and Commerce reports an increase in private investment and in the establishment of industrial firms in the country.
In December alone, five factories with more than $25 million (1.9 billion AFN) worth of private investment began operations in Herat Industrial City, manufacturing solar energy panels, metal pipes, floodgates for small dams, chicken feed and flour.
Progress in the peace process, albeit slow, has encouraged investors, said Minister of Industry and Commerce Nisar Ahmad Ghoryani.
"By supporting industrial parks, the government is trying to reduce imports from neighbouring countries and instead increase the export of domestic products," he said, speaking at Herat Industrial City on December 17.
Afghanistan is able to meet 65% of the domestic demand for products, he said.
Creating job opportunities
Employees of industrial factories in Herat Province told Salaam Times they are hopeful for lasting peace and for the establishment of more factories.
Establishing new factories in Herat Industrial City has created hundreds of jobs and slowed the tide of migrant workers moving abroad in search of work, said Kazem Nazari, an employee at a solar manufacturing plant in the industrial city.
Growth and development are linked to peace, he said, adding that ensuring peace in Afghanistan will enable the establishment of more manufacturing firms.
"Those who spend a lot of money on war should stop doing so and instead spend their money on building factories," he said. "If we build factories, there will be more jobs for youth and less capital flight."
Mustafa Wahidi, who works at a solar manufacturing firm in the industrial city, said he is "very happy to have a permanent job" since his university graduation.
Many investors are interested in Afghanistan, he said, "but due to the war and insecurity, they are forced to invest in neighbouring countries and the region".
With peace, he said, there will be further opportunities for the establishment of industrial firms that will provide the population with jobs.
While the country remains at war, the establishment of industrial firms and launch of infrastructure projects point to a brighter future, said Zekria Faqiri, another employee at the solar manufacturing firm.
"War has devastated the country. Nothing is or will be achieved through war," he said, adding that Afghanistan's 40-year war has turned it into a battleground for other countries' proxy wars.
"I call on all armed anti-government groups to join the peace talks so that peace can be ensured in Afghanistan and opportunities for growth and employment can be created," he said.
Fighting Iran's dumping policies
The Afghan government has stressed that it is doing everything it can to support the country's fledgling industrial sector.
The private sector has accused Iran of trying to harm Afghan industry through dumping policies, in which it offloads Iran-produced goods in Afghanistan to stifle that country's domestic market and prop up demand for Iranian products.
The government's policy is to fight Iran's dumping policies and put an end to smuggling, Herat Governor Sayed Wahid Qatali said December 17.
"Due to the dumping policies of neighbouring countries and the import of smuggled goods, four industrial firms were forced to close last week," he said.
"We had several meetings with the ambassadors of neighbouring countries over the past month, requesting them to stop these policies," he added, noting that dumping has disheartened Afghan industrialists and investors.
"We have increased the tariff on most imports from Iran," he said. "We also have increased monitoring in customs to prevent smuggled goods from entering the country."
"The greatest disappointment of the private sector is that dumping policies of neighbouring countries do not allow domestic products to compete with imported goods," Qatali said.
"In order to cripple Afghan industry, some countries import their products at very low prices to capture the market."
Increased interest in investment
The increased desire to invest in Afghanistan's industrial firms in recent years has created thousands of jobs across the country.
Afghanistan is now self sufficient in 56 sectors, compared to 15 six years ago, said Shir Baz Kaminzada, director general of Afghanistan's Chamber of Industries and Mines.
The number of manufacturing firms over the same period has increased from 2,000 to 5,000, he said, which indicates the rapid growth of investment.
"The increase in the number of industrial firms and the growth of investment in the country are the result of the government's support," he said, adding that the "government has supported domestic products with all its might".
Afghanistan exports products to various countries in 12 different sectors, Kaminzada added.