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Editor's letter: Portrait of an Afghan woman

Carlos Martin Tornero, editor, The Accountant

The birthplace of the nascent Afghan accountancy industry is not Kabul, but Peshawar in Pakistan.

The NGOs and international donors' agencies operating around the neighbouring area, where refugee camps for Afghans were settled, started to ask for the services of accountancy firms in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

But for a country whose most basic infrastructure was hit by interminable wars, having qualified accountants seemed to be an unaffordable luxury.

The Pakistani profession, instead, provided the services required by the development sector in order to deal more effectively with the international financial aid aimed at reconstructing Afghanistan.

In one of those refugee camps near Peshawar, photographer Steve McCurry took the picture of a twelve-year-old Afghan girl, whose challenging gaze was immortalised on the cover of the National Geographic in June 1985.

The Afghan girl grew up ignoring she had turned into a symbol of her country's tragic destiny as Afghanistan had yet more turmoil to suffer.

As the years passed, like many other refugees, she faded away. But in 2002 National Geographic rediscovered her as an adult by the name of Sharbat Gula. The photo taken that time showed a prematurely aging lady who, nonetheless, seemed to keep the same defiant gaze.

In February 2015, another portrait of Sharbat Gula made the headlines again. This time however, was the photo of her Pakistani national identity card - a document she has no right to obtain as an Afghan refugee.

As such the Pakistani government cancelled the fake ID cards of Gula and her children. The story reflects deeper social issues in Pakistan, which hosts about 2.5m Afghan refugees.

The situation is different for Pakistani partners who are leading accountancy firms in Afghanistan. Many of them spend half of the time in Kabul and the other half in Pakistan. The short distance and a different working week (from Saturday to Wednesday in Afghanistan) also help.

For example, EY's Muhammad Basheer Juma, Grant Thornton's Saqib Rehman Qureshi or HLB's Ijaz Akber among many others interviewed for our special survey on Afghanistan.

In the absence of any accountancy infrastructure, they are somehow paving the way for the nascent Afghan profession, which hopefully will help prevent corruption scandals such as that of the Kabul Bank.

But the main gap the country faces is education, not just in the accountancy sector. The London's Imperial War Museum is running an exhibition on Afghanistan.

A looped film, part of the installation, shows footage of Afghan cities. In the corner of a street in Kabul, a big banner advertises the prestigious Fulbright Program, the educational exchange scheme sponsored by the US government. "Applications are due April 12th, 2014," the banners read.

No doubt, among those who applied might be the future leaders of Afghanistan. In 1985 the incumbent president Ashraf Ghani was a Fulbrighter, as the alumna of the program are called.

But the other gap is gender equality. How long would it take until a woman is appointed partner of an Afghan accountancy firm?

Read The Accountant's Afghanistan survey here:
Afghanistan survey: Bleak prospects ahead for the graveyard of empires

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