International Politics and the Afghan Oriental Rug Trade

A recent article in the Washington post titled “US hopes to revive Afghan rug trade” by Glenn Kessler outlined the involvement of the Pentagon with the Afghan Oriental rug trade. Afghanistan is a nation with some 1 million people involved in a cottage industry of weavers who work mostly in their homes hand knotting Oriental rugs.

What the US Pentagon has discovered, based on a 2006 USAID report from the Afghanistan Competitive Project, is that nearly all rugs made in Afghanistan are shipped to Pakistan for washing and finishing. US officials see this as an enormous loss of jobs and potential income for Afghans with as much as 40 percent of the wholesale value of an Afghan rug lost to Pakistan. In addition, each carpet requires 7 or 8 people for washing and trimming, all jobs lost to Pakistan.

To remedy this situation they have awarded about a $1 million contract to Tremayne Consulting which was recently set up by Richard Ringrose to handle the Afghan contract. Ringrose is known for having previously obtained a Defense department contract for Iraq to introduce the use of natural fibers and new designs. The plan in the next year is to establish training facilities for washing and trimming in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, centers for carpet weaving. He is also intending to create a hub in Istanbul, Turkey where foreign buyers unwilling to travel to Afghanistan could examine and potentially purchase the finished carpets.

My opinion is that this kind of project will directly benefit the Afghan people. It has the potential to position the United State’s role in Afghanistan in a more favorable light with the Afghan people. As so many women are involved in weaving the economic support gained by their hand work, especially if this project helps to expand the market, for Afghani rugs will empower them.