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Afghans seek their own exit strategy

| Friday, April 5, 2013, 8:30 p.m.
Nabil Ahmad, with his wife, Rohina, holding Rizwan, 6 months, would like to keep working in Kabul, Afghanistan, if he can get his wife and children to safety. The Afghan couple also have a 2-year-old son named Ali. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Nabil Ahmad was at his desk at a logistics support firm last spring when an explosion ripped through the office.

Windows shattered. The ceiling collapsed. “I thought it was an earthquake — or the end of the world,” the Kabul native said.

At 26, Ahmad, who favors Western suits and now works for a cellphone service provider, has never known a time when his country was not at war. He's a father now, with a 2-year-old and an infant to think about.

“I don't want to put my sons in the position that I was growing up,” he said. “I want to get my family out.”

Like many Afghans, Ahmad is desperately seeking an exit strategy before most foreign troops leave next year.

A recent study warned of a “contagious pessimism” among Afghan business and political leaders and the urban middle class. “Crucially, there are indications of a self-fulfilling prophecy: Fear of instability in 2014 is driving emigration of the very people and money that could prevent instability,” said the report by the development consultant, STATT.

The wealthy are buying second homes abroad and moving huge amounts of money out of Afghanistan from fear that security will deteriorate and the economy will collapse. Others are applying to study overseas, seeking invitations from relatives abroad or risking their lives trying to get into countries illegally.

If he can get his wife and children to safety, Ahmad would like to keep working here. He has been trying to arrange a trip to Europe and figures the family can apply for asylum once they get there. But obtaining visas is almost impossible.

Some travel agents say they can arrange invitation letters from families in far-off countries to support visa applications. Others claim to have embassy contacts who will issue visas under the table. But it's expensive and they don't always deliver.

Prices for high-end real estate in Kabul have plummeted by as much as 50 percent as members of the business and political elite scramble to move their families and assets out of the country.

“Everything has stopped,” said Elyas Faizi of Blue House Real Estate. “No one can sell. No one is buying.”

Some of his clients are snapping up apartments and villas in Dubai on the Persian Gulf, where wealthy Afghans have long sought sanctuary. The number of Afghans buying property there jumped in 2011 and 2012, many paying in cash, according to local brokers.

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