Ahmad Faizy’s network reaches into the most restive corners of Afghanistan: lawless, Taliban-dominated areas where government officials and troops, if they are present at all, have to hunker down behind thick defensive walls.
His trucks travel the risky roads without problems, and his agents are welcomed almost everywhere in a country riven by ethnic divides and suspicion. The secret of this success is not money or guns, but boxes of sweet, cold treats from his factory in the far west.
“Security is not a concern when selling ice cream,” Faizy says in a modest office near the plant where rows of vanilla ices are being dipped in chocolate, cones filled with strawberry swirls, and orange ice-lollies rapid-frozen and bagged. “Even the Taliban like ice cream,” he adds with a grin.
Herat Ice Cream factory churns out 30 tonnes of ice creams, ice lollies and other treats each day, all shipped off in a fleet of specially equipped trucks to distribution centres in major cities — along roads where trucks carrying more controversial products are sometimes robbed or torched.
From the regional hubs, the ices are sent on even to places like Khost — the home base and stronghold of the much-feared Haqqani network — and Nuristan, where the Taliban’s vice and virtue police recently returned to the streets.
The ice creams finally make it to most Afghan customers via street vendors who push carts around town, announcing their arrival with loudspeakers playing tinny tunes.
Faizy has impressive expansion plans, and his company is backed by a US government team helping to develop small and medium-size enterprises in the area, but is struggling to find someone else with the confidence to put up even modest funds in business terms.
“We want to build a large cold storage, to keep the ice creams for summer, so we can continue production for the winter. We estimate it will cost about $1 million … we would like a partner.”