I remember being in Goa, India when I was a teenager in one of the big beach bazaars. It was my first experience haggling and I was just sealing the deal on a beautiful skirt, which I still have. As I handed over money, I overheard a loud tourist demanding of one of the stallholders, “that’s not a local price, though, is it? That’s not what you people pay!”. This man was tall, large and sported an expensive pair of Boss sunglasses. Even at my tender age, I remember thinking what a ridiculous premise that was - that, since you’re visiting a country, you should automatically pay local prices, even if you earn ten times as much. Now when I go on holiday, I don’t haggle too much about the price. A little, of course, but I don’t mind paying a more than local people.
Here in Afghanistan, foreigners don’t pay local tax. The government’s just not developed enough and there are enough international loopholes to get out of it if they did. They also don’t pay tax back home, so there’s more money sloshing around their pockets than usual. Local Afghans, naturally, do their bit to set the balance right by inflating prices for foreigners. So far, so good economics.
The problem comes when international organisations pay ridiculously inflated prices without even blinking an eye. They’ll just pay whatever locals demand, without any negotiation. That leads to a situation like Kabul rents, where for an individual room in a guesthouse, you’re looking at a base-rate of $1000 a month, excluding bills, which, for internet alone can be anything up to an extra $500-800 a month.
As long as the international organisations are happy to pay, this state of affairs get normalised and it’s expected that kharijis (foreigners) not only can but SHOULD pay much larger prices.
Then you get a situation like the other day, where our electricity company suddenly decided that, as White City are a bunch of foreigners, we should pay khariji prices. It’s not exactly put as such - they say that since foreigners live in a house, the house must be ‘commercial’ instead of ‘residential’ and no amount of showing them our bedrooms and bathroom will convince them otherwise.
We don’t mind paying more. We’re visitors in the country and we should pay our share of tax to the economy. But when the bills are quadrupled, it’s hard for a bunch of musicians to foot the bill. We’re not whining about it - of course we’ll pay the bill and feed our electric guitars and the Afghans deserve to earn what they get out of the occupation. But once these international organisations leave, it’s going to be a big shock to the economy of Kabul. I suppose it’s too much to ask for them to have some sense about it.