As the United States winds down its military presence in Afghanistan, there are growing concerns in Washington about what a limited American role in the country might mean for security and for the viability of Afghanistan's still shaky governmental institutions.
One American agency, though, sees a bright future in Afghanistan -- for energy drink companies. In a report released this month by the Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service, the USDA suggest that boom times may be ahead for foreign energy drink makers interested in entering the Afghan market. From the report:
Historically, Afghanistan has been a lightly caffeinated, tea-drinking country. Few Afghans drink coffee, but in recent years, many have developed a taste for energy drinks. Today, Afghans consume energy drinks everywhere and at all hours of the day: during the morning commute to work, in wedding halls, and at private dinners.
Energy drinks are sold everywhere – from street vendors to grocery stores to the finest restaurants. Exact sales figures and just how big the market is remains unknown. However, it is clear that the market for energy drinks is growing rapidly, and that a large number of new brands are competing for customers.
In a fascinating article from last December, RFE/RL offers more on the subject of how Afghanistan went from a "lightly caffeinated" society to a very heavily caffeinated one, reporting that even Taliban fighters are getting into the habit, imbibing energy drinks in order help them on the battlefield. But, as RFE/RL reports, some are calling for a ban on the drinks, both on religious and food safety grounds:
In Afghanistan, there is little government regulation and no national standards for imported drinks, food, or medicines. That has meant the Afghan market has been flooded by outdated, low-quality energy drinks deemed unfit for sale in other countries.
Abdullah, an assistant shopkeeper, says Afghan distributors for foreign beverage companies sell expired products for discounted prices and that some shopkeepers readily buy the inferior products and sell them for a quick profit.
"Some of the drinks are past their expiry dates or have gone bad. They pose a health risk to people and shouldn't be sold. Only those that are legal, with expiry dates, and in good condition should be sold," he says. "The Public Health Ministry must regulate the market and take the necessary steps to stop this."
Despite the risks and controversy, business appears to be booming. Habib Rahman, a shopkeeper in Kabul, says energy drinks are outselling popular soft drinks such as Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
"Most Afghans like energy drinks. They think it gives them energy and can get rid of tiredness," Rahman says. "It mostly started with young employed Afghans in urban areas buying the drinks, but now it has spread to all sectors of society."
As the US and NATO ease out of their more than a decade-long experiment in nation building in Afghanistan, the emergence of a hyperactive energy drink sector does bring up an interesting question: is Red Bull the new taste of freedom?