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Afghan shoppers go online to avoid bombs, harassment

KABUL:  Shoppers in the Afghan capital are going online for everything from fashion to furniture to avoid bomb attacks and sexual harassment, with dozens of start-ups doing a brisk trade where there were few on the ground two years ago.

Suicide bombings and other attacks in Kabul have killed and wounded hundreds of people this year and security had been expected to deteriorate ahead of elections planned for October. Sexual harassment on the street is widespread.

Taliban insurgents on Sunday announced a surprise three-day ceasefire for the Eid holiday next week, marking the end of  Ramazan, days after the government offered a ceasefire until June 20.

The new retailers, with names like AzadBazar.af, afom.af, JVBazar.com and zarinas.com, sell goods ranging from cosmetics, computers, kitchenware and furniture to cars, rugs and real estate. One website advertises foreign brands including Rolex, Adidas and Zara.

Student Asila Sulaimani described online shopping as a “good experience” in a country at war, with U.N. figures putting those under 25 at more than 60 percent of the population, the vast majority of them enthusiastic smartphone users.

“Who dares go out shopping these days?” she said.

“I am sure there are some people, but for me, it has always been difficult … Fears of an explosion, an attack and the most common thing, harassment, follow me like my shadow.”

Tamim Rasa, 28, is the founder of Rasa Online which he started with $30,000 eight months ago. He has since signed contracts with more than 60 stores and traders, with 80 percent of his customers’ women and cosmetics “a big part of the business”.

The store has no physical presence in terms of stock, just an office of eight.

“We work as a connecting bridge between people and large stores and traders. A month ago, we were hardly managing to earn our expenses – we were making a loss – but now we are making a profit of 1,000 to 3,000 afghanis ($14 to $42) a day. It shows we are growing.”

Esmatullah, 27, owner of Afghan Mart, which he set up just over a year ago, has a shop with 500,000 afghanis ($7,000) worth of goods.

“Big companies contact me to sell their imported goods. An average of 50 customers call me daily and we deliver,” he said, adding that he too is looking to expand into the provinces by the end of the year.

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