Coca-Cola Co. has become the first major business to open in Afghanistan since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime almost five years ago.

The US company has opened a bottling plant in the Bagrami Industrial Area of the country, just east of Kabul.

Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai yesterday (10 September) formally opened the US$25m site. He described the venture as "an important step forward to economic growth, self sufficiency and better future of Afghanistan".

Karzai's government, backed by the West, has been desperate for foreign investment in one of the world's poorest economies and a country still racked by violence.

Selcuk Erden, president of Coke's southern Eurasia business, said the company would help create jobs, commerce and finance economic development in Afghanistan.

He said: "Afghanistan was the missing link in our geography and we were following this country very carefully."

The plant will be run by one of the country's richest men, Habib Gulzar, and will initially produce Coca-Cola, Fanta and Sprite.

"Afghanistan is a country promising a lot of growth opportunity for our business," insisted Rizwan U. Khan, country manager for Coke in Pakistan and Afghanistan.