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Afghanistan gets back to business

The country’s newly revitalized banking system throws up colourful characters and eccentric approaches to marketing. But overseeing it all is a rigorous central banker with solid US commercial banking experience. Eric Ellis reports.

By Eric Ellis

The tribulations of Delawari

Hayatullah Dayani, a director of Azizi Bank
Hayatullah Dayani, a director of Azizi Bank, walks into a branch from his Hummer surrounded by armed guards

AFGHANISTAN’S LEADING COMMERCIAL banker doubles as a professional Las Vegas poker player. And his two-year-old bank is a joint venture with partners drawn from currency traders in the Afghan hawala system, the widespread informal money-transfer network the US wants to shut down because it suspects it is used by Islamist extremists to move money to finance their terror campaigns. Afghan banking’s most popular consumer product is better recognized as a lottery, with monthly draws broadcast nationally on state television. Kabul’s newest banking tycoon makes most of his money as a petroleum trader, and his right-hand man was once in the German rag trade but is best known as the financial adviser to Afghanistan’s long-deposed king; he now gets around Kabul in a gleaming black bulletproof Humvee, with two armed guards.

To use an ATM at Afghanistan’s leading foreign bank requires you to run the gauntlet of a street known as Sniper Alley, then be patted down by a bristling security detail of Gurkhas before getting access to a cash machine that might or might not be functioning.

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