PESHAWAR, Pakistan The lowly afghani looks set to join the dollar once printed by the Confederate States of America a historic relic from an era of turmoil unless Afghan’s interim authorities can turn off the printing presses of competing warlords.
At the moment there are no fewer than four different currencies circulating in Afghanistan.
Besides the afghani, as the official currency is known, there are the Dostum afghanis, the Malik afghanis, and the Rabbani afghanis, each named after warlords who control different parts of the nation.
The different notes emerged after the ouster of the first coalition government in 1992 by the Taliban.
As former President Burhanuddin Rabbani’s government became the Northern Alliance, they continued to print money to finance their war against the Taliban, using printing presses obtained from Russia.
As the movement began to splinter and individual warlords became more powerful, they bought their own printing presses and began to make their own money.
The first to print his own notes in quantity is believed to be Gen. Abdurrashid Dostum, now the interim government’s deputy defense minister, who maintains his own army based in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
The Dostum afghani is distinguishable from the genuine note most noticeably in the marquee on one side.
Where the notes read, “DaAfghanistan Bank,” the Dostum notes have a space between the “Da” and “Afghanistan.”
However, in a tribute to his personal power, if not his printing presses, Gen. Dostum’s notes actually have some value.
Adding to the woes of the Afghan central bank, the only note that forgers bother to duplicate is the official afghani.
Of the dozens of moneychangers interviewed in Peshawar, none would say that the counterfeits are anything more than a nuisance.
Though when pressed as to why even the counterfeits have some value, one moneychanger, Jabbar Nassery joked, “Well, even these are printed on paper.”
All of the versions, which are distinguished only by minor details, tend to gain some value as one moves closer to their warlord sponsor.
The Rabbani afghanis were printed during Mr. Rabbani’s tenure as president of the Northern Alliance in order to finance the war against the Taliban.
All Rabbani afghanis have a serial higher than 32.
The Malik afghanis printed by Gen. Abdul Malik Pahlavan, the warlord of the south probably best fit the saying “not worth the paper they are printed on.”
The counterfeits, if one is sharp enough to spot them, are worth about the same, money changers say.
Since prices are only quoted thrice daily, traders spend most of their time flipping through great bricks of the stuff looking for counterfeits.
This delays payment on just about everything, since genuine afghanis are usually traded in blocks of 10 million paper bricks. Somehow, currency traders manage to make a living by betting on minute changes in value between the morning opening and the 6 p.m. daily close.
Counterfeiting in Afghanistan is not merely a device for making money.
In a country with politicians and warlords scrambling for power, it is a means of conveying legitimacy as well as providing an indirect way of challenging the authority of the interim government in Kabul.
And just owning one’s own printing press generates significant prestige for a local militia commander who has to maintain his own army.
Fighters who serve in a militia believe that a printing press owned by their commander offers some guarantee of financial security.
Said one local gunmen, Abdul Mohammed Akbar: “At least I know I will always be paid.”