Stability, Investment & Growth in Afghanistan: A Conversation with Jim Bullion

Article excerpt

ISOA Editorial Team

JAMES L. BULLION is the Director of the Task Force for Business Stability Operations (TFBSO). Prior to joining TFBSO, Mr. Bullion was President of Phoenix Global Services, LLC, a strategy and management consulting firm. Earlier in his career he held senior executive positions in international telecommunications companies. He began his career in commercial banking and investment management.

Mr. Bullion is a retired colonel of the United States Army Reserve and served two tours in Iraq. Mr. Bullion earned a B.A. in Economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration.

&The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations is a relatively new entity in the Department of Defense, primarily focused on Afghanistan. Since the initiative was started, what have been the biggest achievements?

Bullion: TFBSO was established in mid-2006 to focus on economic stabilization in Iraq by identifying opportunities for foreign direct investment in state-owned enterprises, leveraging the purchasing power of the Department of Defense as a catalyst for economic growth. In late 2009, TFBSO was asked to evaluate the Afghan economy and identify opportunities for economic growth, recognizing the significant differences from Iraq's economy. We rapidly determined that Afghanistan has an enormous wealth of natural resources - minerals, oil, gas and gemstones - as well as opportunities to dramatically improve the value being generated by existing industries such as carpet manufacturing, cashmere production, agricultural products, and other industries and tremendous human resources whose potential needed to be unleashed. We have therefore focused our efforts in those sectors with goals of generating sustainable, long-term revenue for the Afghan government and expansion of the private sector to create jobs and wealth-creation opportunities. We address the first goal by assisting the Government of Afghanistan monetize its mineral, oil, and natural gas resources through international investment and development, and the second by identifying business opportunities for Afghan and international investors, providing assistance to Afghan entrepreneurs to help them expand their businesses and prepare them for potential investment, and helping to create opportunities for new industrial development.

TFBSO's achievements in Afghanistan are significant, including:

* Successful tenders of hydrocarbon and mineral resources executed to international standards and using fully transparent processes; as a result, several international companies have committed to invest millions of dollars to develop oil and gas fields and explore potential copper and gold mines. Afghanistan is now capable of producing oil and rapidly expanding its production of natural gas. This is expected to spur additional investments in the infrastructure needed to extract, process and move these products, creating thousands of new jobs.

* Development of partnerships between Afghan hand-woven carpet manufacturers and international design and carpet companies in Austria, Chile, Italy, and the United States, bringing Afghan carpet producers into the modern world, thus dramatically increasing the potential size of this important industry; we have also built and launched facilities that will allow Afghans to finish their own carpets and reap their value in Afghanistan rather than exporting semi-finished products, adding millions of dollars to the Afghan economy.

* Creation of a business incubator that has helped many small Afghan enterprises grow and prosper by training their owners and managers in basic business skills and connecting them with market opportunities.

* Evaluation of hundreds of Afghan businesses as potential investment targets for Afghan and international investors, and introducing promising businesses to leading emerging market investment funds.

But the true success is in our relationship with the Afghan people, especially our colleagues in the Afghan government and in the growing Afghan business community. …