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Afghans Start to Take the Money and Run

Locals use planes and traditional money handlers to export wealth
'Hawaladars' charge 2 percent to transfer money abroad
'Hawaladars' charge 2 percent to transfer money abroadPhotograph by Bryan Denton/Corbis

Afghan central bank inspector Fahim Satari stands in Kabul International Airport in front of a local businessman headed for Dubai, counting by hand the stack of $100 bills police found the passenger carrying to the gate. Satari declares the cash to be under the $20,000 per passenger limit imposed to stem the flood of money leaving through the terminal. In the year to March, $4.6 billion fled via the airport, a sum equal to almost one-quarter of the country’s gross domestic product. The year before, $2.3 billion in cash left via the airport.

The lost billions are undercutting U.S. efforts to stabilize the country as it prepares to withdraw its troops by 2014. “The money leaving the country shows that Afghans fear the war will escalate after NATO troops leave,” says Saifuddin Saihoon, an economics professor at Kabul University.