Unsafe, salvaged cars cause havoc in Kabul

Thu May 7, 2009 10:40pm EDT
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By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL (Reuters) - More than seven years after the fall of the Taliban, the streets of Kabul are gridlocked with cars, many of them so rickety they failed roadworthy tests at home and were shipped off to Afghanistan instead.

Importing vehicles into Afghanistan has become one of the most lucrative businesses in the country as vast injections of foreign cash help the economy recover from years of civil war followed by austerity and sanctions during the Taliban era.

But unscrupulous traders are exploiting a lack of import regulations to ship in vehicles that fail safety tests in other countries, officials and dealers say.

"Afghan traders mostly import Japanese Toyota cars that are second-hand and salvaged," said Amir Mohammad, a police officer in charge of Kabul's crowded city center.

Some 90 percent of used cars were bought in Germany and Canada and then shipped to Afghanistan via Dubai and an overland route from Iran.

Businessmen and high-ranking officials drive Toyota land cruisers and Lexus jeeps. Other cars are out-dated, with Russian taxis from the 1960s and 70s still creeping through the city's streets, clogging the capital's skies with pollution.

The government, about two years ago, restricted importing vehicles more than a decade old, but then abandoned the rule in the face of protests from traders who said they had placed orders for old cars and Afghans could not afford newer models.

"There is no law that stipulates what type and what models of vehicles the traders can bring in," said Finance Ministry spokesman Aziz Shams.   Continued...

<p>An Afghan man walks in front of a car seller in Kabul May 3, 2009. Over seven years after the fall of the Taliban the streets of Kabul are heaving with cars, but far from hopeful signs of development, many are dangerous scrap that clog the capital's skies with pollution, experts say. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani</p>