Dezan Shira associate firm opens office in Kabul

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Globalization, it appears, is springing up everywhere. With Dezan Shira & Associates, the main contributors to China Briefing, attending their spring global conference in Edinburgh three weeks ago it was a great chance for me to get to meet some of our European partner firms, plus a few stragglers from the US and Asia, to chin-wag about all the things that global accountants and auditors talk about – increasing our client billings, HR, regional regulatory updates, IT, and all that jazz. Boring for many, but hey, we find it fun.

All this in early May, at the glorious surroundings of Edinburgh Castle, serenaded up the Red Hot Chilli Pipers – a sort of rock ‘n’ rock bagpipe band – (see their website for downloads and strange photos of Glasweigans in kilts doing Queen’s “We Will Rock You” while blowing away in close proximity to haggis). Yes, even accountants can have fun. But aside from all the normal pizzazz that surrounds this sort of conference, one thing struck me: the attendance of our new partner firm in Karachi, Rafaqat Babar & Co.

What with Dezan Shira & Associates about to open up a presence in India – I’ve just returned from a month in the country, and flew in from Delhi just a matter of hours ago – was the true nature of globalisation. For here, with full dark beard, an elaborate Kerta (the long dress worn by men in Pakistan) and skull cap, accompanied by his beautiful – yet dutiful wife, dressed in finest silks, and a becoming headscarf – was Mr. Rafaqat Babar himself, listening intently on the sessions held concerning ‘best practice management’; ‘dealing with cross border transactions’, ‘transfer pricing issues for US manufacturers abroad’ and so on.

Naturally I wanted to learn more, and with my practice now about to open in Delhi, Bombay and Chennai I am interested in what is happening in Pakistan. It turns out the economy there is also booming – albeit from a modest platform – but booming nonetheless.  Mr. Babar has opened five offices in the country , headquartered in Peshawar, with large additional offices in Karachi and Lahore, and two smaller ones elsewhere, trade is becoming better regulated in Pakistan he says, and despite the press coverage showing  unrest, largely he views the nation as improving it’s lot. Indeed, the region appears to be following.

He stunned me by letting me know he’d just opened an office in Kabul, in Afghanistan. “The government is getting to grips with the situation” he advises “Troubles of course exist, but in Kabul, which since ancient times has been a primary silk road trade centre, things are getting back to normal. The government is collecting taxes, a regulatory system exists and is working, and companies are needing the services of professionals like myself to ensure they are managed properly and are in compliance with local tax laws and requirements”. That has to be the most positive news I’ve heard from the region for a long time. When accountants start to move in – there is a large degree of security happening.

It also struck me, when looking at Mr. Babar, with dark beard, reserved manner, and a somewhat stern look about him – yet revealed when he laughs, a huge bellowing guffaw – to be something of a gentle giant – that globalisation is indeed breaking out all over. Far from being the preserve of the US and EU nations, and front page news over trade imbalances in the Wall Street Journal, the true heroes to me are the likes of Mr. Babar and his practice, breaking out of Pakistan, and beginning to establish a cross border firm themselves.

I cannot imagine what risks he takes – I intend to find out later in the summer and fly to meet him in Kabul from a direct flight from Urumqi (Air China, three times a week) – but for the moment – hats off to Rafaqat Babar & Co, because with firms like his supplying the structural mechanism to allow the wheels of commerce, rather than bloodshed, hate and discrimination to turn, the future for the unsettled regions of the world – and especially in Central Asia and the Middle East – lies a potential glimpse into the future. Mr. Babar – you have my utmost respect, and I hope to meet more of the same sorts of Muslim entrepreneurs as I met with him. Peace via trade, and may this creed long continue.

Chris Devonshire-Ellis