Studying for a professional accountancy qualification is usually enough of a challenge for most people.

But imagine if those studies had to take place amidst one of the world’s longest running conflicts: the war in Afghanistan.

Recently 13 young people overcame that challenge and became the first group to graduate after completing a program of study run by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. They were presented with their Certified Accounting Technician qualifications at a ceremony in Islamabad, Pakistan.

His Excellency, Mohammad Anwar Anwarzai, Afghan ambassador to Pakistan, attended the ceremony, as did Beat Schuler, senior protection officer with the Legal Protection Unit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Feroz Rafiq, president of the Afghanistan Society of Accounting Technicians.

For many of the graduates, the return to Pakistan re-ignited memories of their lives as refugees. One graduate, Wahidullah Naseri, born in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, had spent his first 16 years as an Afghan refugee in Peshawar before repatriating to Afghanistan in 2002. More than 3.4 million Afghans have voluntarily repatriated from Pakistan to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance since 2002. Some 1.8 million registered Afghans remain in Pakistan today.

“During the war, millions of Afghans fled their country, which caused a lack of educated human resources in our country,” Rafiq said. “Today, we have a number of expatriates who are working in different parts of Afghanistan, but we would like to see local boys and girls take up key roles in business and industry.”

With billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan, international donor agencies have also raised concerns about the sustainability of development and other projects in Afghanistan due to the lack of trained accounting professionals and structured accounting processes. Professional training could help to fill this gap.

“The field of accounting is still in its early stages in Afghanistan,” said Naseri. “Much needs to be done to bring professionalism into this sector, which is one of the reasons I chose this course.”

The former refugee is now a finance manager at Ariana Financial Services in Kabul, which provides micro-credit mostly to groups of women who run small businesses in Kabul and Jalalabad.

Khaild Zarif, who works at the Sayed Jafar Sadat Bank in Afghanistan, said, “Qualifying for CAT has not only helped me in understanding financial statements, but also given me enough confidence to conduct auditing.”

Mohammad Anwar Anwarzai, the Afghan Ambassador to Pakistan, was the chief guest of the graduation ceremony. “The growing need for transparency requires more professionals,” he said. “I am grateful to ACCA for addressing these needs... for their commitment in providing qualification of international repute to the young citizens of Afghanistan. We are living in a global village where financial planning and corporate governance are an essential part and Afghanistan is a part of this global village.”

According to Arif Masud Mirza, head of ACCA Pakistan, the association supports ACCA offices and projects in South and Central Asia, including in Afghanistan. Teachers and students from the region are often invited to Pakistan to take part in seminars, and vice versa.

The benefits are mutual.

“Afghan students understand the culture of Pakistan, its language and values,” Mirza said. “The reverse is also true. It is therefore a privilege to host the graduation ceremony for these graduates in Pakistan. It is also gratifying to know that they are all working in middle or higher management positions in renowned local and global organizations.”

Colin Davis is the head of international communications at the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants in London.

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