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Nelvin Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune
Marcus Stern
Copley News Service

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Afghanistan -- Latifa Abasy is trying to restore the magic of Afghan carpets.

The country's carpet-makers are a ray of hope for a poor country economically dominated by opium and heroin production.

Abasy helps run the Afghanistan Competitiveness Project, an attempt to jumpstart key segments of the Afghan economy. The program was designed by Massachusetts-based OTF Group.

Halfway through the two-year project, Abasy and her colleagues have organized the carpet-makers into two consortia designed to enhance market leverage by pooling resources.

One milestone in the program will come when the Afghan carpet-makers send their own representatives to an upcoming international carpet fair in Germany, something they never would have considered previously.

"Even if they don't make any sales at the fair, it will be an opportunity for them to network and create crucial market linkages," said OTF consultant Aref Adamali, who works with Abasy.

They also are trying to stimulate the creative end of the process by encouraging young Afghans to consider carpet design as a profession.

"We want to make design cool," said Adamali. Toward that end, they're organizing a design contest that will be judged by a panel of

international carpet experts. "We want to create a market around design," Adamali added.

OTF Group tries to enhance business competitiveness by organizing enterprises related by what they do and where they do it. The goal is to
get competitors in a smaller market to cooperate in some activities so they might collectively compete in larger markets.

The group also is trying to help two other Afghan business sectors: marble and dried fruits and nuts.

"I think this will succeed," said Abasy.