The Afghan economy has gone through much over the years of war and conflict. The value of the Afghan currency— Afghani—has constantly fluctuated through the years of the internal wars in Afghanistan.
End of a long war, development and infrastructure growth has attributed to a much stronger economy and as a result a currency of higher value as compared to neighboring countries. However, even today, the Afghans witness a steady fall in the value of our currency and it remains unstable.
Said Hakim, from Kabul, realises this as he collects old Afghan currencies.
He narrates how he came to this hobby of preserving a part of Afghanistan’s history. “Once I came across my father’s collection of wallets when I was seven years of age. He had used them over many years when travelling and kept currencies from different countries in them. This was the first I saw paper money different than ours. I was very intrigued and so I started collecting them.”
However, it was until much later, when an aunt gifted him his first vintage Afghani banknote ever, that he was drawn towards the economic history of his own country. “The 5 Afghani note was from during the reign of Amanullah Khan in 1926. Since then I have been trying to complete my collection of old Afghanis, a difficult task because some of the banknotes are exceptionally rare,” he shares.
Respect our currency
It isn’t uncommon to use foreign currency for daily transactions in Afghanistan. In fact, depending on the province and borders it shares, a variety of international currencies—from Pakistani Rupees to Iranian Tuman, and even the dollar are accepted.
Having been a keeper of the Afghan heritage, Hakim disapproves of this. “We should take pride in our national currency. Whenever I am in Afghanistan, I only Afghani in my pocket,” he advises.
“Unfortunately, we don’t posses a strong national identity and people don’t feel that the Afghani can be a source of pride and value. And this despite the relative stability of our currency compared to others over the last 13 years,” he says.
“There is so much people don’t know about our own currency,” he says in dismay.
“I often see people using ‘Af’ or ‘Afs’ when writing about our currency. In shops and on restaurant menus, you can see this form of writing. However, officially, there is no special sign for the Afghani, although the unofficial ؋ sign is popular,” he informs.
“The real currency code for our beloved Afghani however is AFN since 2002 and AFA for the money issued before then. It stands for the Pashto expression Afghanistan Nəwaya Afghanəy and Afghanistan Afghanəy respectively,” he adds.
Tracing Afghan history through its currency
The poor quality of paper the Afghan currency is printed on is one of main problems, according to Hakim. “The government should use higher quality paper so that banknotes last longer than they do,” he advises.
He further narrates, “Throughout its history, Afghanistan has had nearly 300 banknotes, if you count all varieties, reprints etc. Some of them were printed on exceptionally good paper and they have survived the decades since they were printed.”
“I started my collection with a 5 Afghani note from 1926. I cherish this one in particular because it marked the beginning of our national currency,” he shares
“Before (and for a short period after the deposition of Amanullah Khan) the Afghan rupee was used, which still bore four languages – Dari, Pashto, Urdu and Uzbek,” he adds.
“During the years leading up to the Second World War, Afghan money was printed in Switzerland and the company that printed these banknotes still exists today. One of the most beautiful banknotes in our history and the first 2 Afghani note is from 1936. Its watermark reads “Afghanistan”
“Interestingly, throughout modern Afghan history, for some peculiar reason, 20 Afghani notes were always in short supply. The rarest of these 20 Afghani notes is the 1939 one which features proudly in my collection. It is, overall, the second rarest banknote in our history
“A currency that is perhaps remembered well by our slightly older generation is the colourful notes issues by Mohammad Zahir Shah in 1961. The 100 Afghani note is remembered by everyone to be red.
“There were two kinds of 500 Afghani note, one orange and one olive-green. But there is another kind of 100 Afghani note from that time, which is brown, but I have only ever seen a single example – the one that is in my collection. It bears a real serial number and does not appear to be what is known in banknote printing as a “colour trial”, a note printed in another colour but without real serial numbers for quality testing purposes.”
“Images on Afghan banknotes have a tradition to be re-used. A favorite example of mine is the 500 Afghani banknote from 1963 which shows Kandahar airport. Everyone who handles a 500 Afghani banknote today knows this image, even if it looks slightly different today. Between the notes lie over 50 years.”
“But if you really want to go back in history, you should take a look at the first banknotes issued for use in Afghanistan—the Afghan rupee series, after the declaration of independence in 1919. They were issued in denominations of 1, 5, 50 and 100 rupees, printed on only one side with counterfoils that were cut off upon issue so their authenticity could be verified by the Afghan treasury. My collection starts with this first 1 rupee banknote.”
“I own about 80% of all banknotes issued before 2002 with only the rarest still missing, such as the 20 Afghani “Khalq” note from 1978 that was never issued and the 1000 Afghani banknote from 1939, the rarest banknote of them all,” Hakim shares with much pride.
“I continue collecting the modern issues, too, that is all Afghani banknotes issued after 2002,” he concludes.