Saturday, May 26, 2012

Your Taxes During Wartime

Afghan market flourishing with coalition goods

"KABUL — At Camp Eggers, the headquarters of NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan, shelves at the U.S. military store grow ever more bare as Pakistan’s halt on coalition supply shipments drags into its sixth month.

But while most troops here don’t know it, there’s no shortage of coalition supplies in Afghanistan’s capital city. The only problem is, those supplies aren’t on coalition bases.

A few miles from Eggers, at a bazaar behind a gold-windowed office building, Afghan men stroll cramped corridors browsing shelves of Colgate toothpaste, Red Bull energy drink and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, stopping now and then to place a bottle of Heinz ketchup or Cheer detergent in a wheelbarrow pushed by an eager attendant.

This is Kabul’s “Bush Market” — a name bearing an unsubtle hint about the origins of its merchandise — a one-stop shop for everything from hand tools to hair gel, all at discount prices. While it can take some work to sift through off-brands and knockoffs, about half the merchandise is the very same found in coalition chow halls, exchange stores and supply closets. No doubt, that’s just where it was supposed to go.

A labyrinth of some 500 stores, the Bush Market is a virtual mall of commercialized corruption where Afghans and the occasional Westerner come to buy, as shopkeepers boast, “American-quality” merchandise.

A similar black market sprang up during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, doing a “brisk trade in Soviet machinery and spare parts,” the AP reported in 1988.

Here, cases of U.S. military field rations, Army workout shirts and energy drinks in limited-edition military-themed packaging are piled near glass display cases showing off Oakley sunglasses, 5.11-brand watches and Gerber multitools of the sort issued to soldiers and sold at on-base shops.

Scores of footlockers conforming to U.S. Postal Service standards and cartons of American-made paper goods, chemicals and cleaners, some of which still have their military shipping labels affixed, offer more evidence that the merchandise isn’t where it belongs. Never mind the stacks of Pop-Tarts, Cheez-It crackers or six-packs of nonalcoholic St. Pauli Girl beer with its trademark fraulein baring her cleavage to conservative Afghan shoppers.

Some stores are specialized, selling health and beauty products, clothing or groceries with names familiar to American consumers: Irish Spring, North Face and Campbell’s. Alongside those brands are obscure labels like Exchange Select, DSCP and Skilcraft, which are made exclusively for U.S. government organizations and not available on the open market even in the States.

On a recent visit, military equipment was up for grabs as well, including an air compressor marked with a stencil naming its previous owner (Company F, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry: you can have it back for a few hundred dollars).

While American troops aren’t allowed to shop in the Bush Market, the bazaar and others like it are known to U.S. officials, who believe the trade extends well beyond the capital."


Anonymous Nz said...

Shades of Catch-22

27/5/12 7:41 AM  

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