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A carpet economy unravels in Afghanistan

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Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

(Read caption) Afghan carpet salesmen fold a carpet after showing it to customers at a shop in Kabul, Afghanistan, Feb. 8. The carpetmaking industry in Afghanistan may be headed for hard times due to cheap competition in China and high-paying alternatives for low skilled laborers.

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 • A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
After centuries as a cornerstone of Afghanistan’s culture and the economy, the nation’s carpetmaking industry may be headed for hard times.

Thanks in large part to a proliferation of both cheap, Chinese carpets and high-paying jobs working for foreign organizations, Afghans are less interested in buying and making traditional rugs.

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“After the invasion of the Americans, this industry has been in a continuous decline,” says Anwar Shahrestani, a carpetmaker for the past 35 years. “The carpet industry is headed toward failure if it continues like this.”

Pointing to a rug four of his children are working on, he explains that it will take three to four months to complete and will net him only $400. He’s uncertain if he’ll find a buyer.

A highly skilled, seasoned carpetmaker can expect to earn about $200 to $250 a month, but the vast majority make less. Weavers’ assistants who do menial detail work can earn as little as $25 a month.

Meanwhile, foreign organizations have created a number of high-paying opportunities for unskilled Afghans who can make the same as a master weaver working as a cleaner for an international charity organization. Salaries for international organizations are good enough to pull local doctors and engineers from their field to work low-level office jobs.

“People have better job opportunities and they can make more money doing other things. Carpetmaking is very boring and repetitive and it pays very little,” says Qurban Ali Nazari, a carpetmaker in Kabul.

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