At the Kampany market on the outskirts of the Afghan capital Kabul, the rain is turning to snow as the livestock traders decide to call it a day and heave their animals back into their trucks.
Business is not too good, said Mohammad Sarwar, 25, a nomad who has just finished haggling over the price of a brown, woolly, fat-bottomed ram, coming down 500 afghanis (10 dollars) to seal the deal.
Advertisement"The prices are certainly higher than they were last year, but so is the price of everything," Sarwar said, as he shivered in the early winter cold.
"I have to bring the animals down from the north, from Kunduz, and the cost of feeding them to get them fat and then the fuel for the truck is almost crippling," he said.
Then there's the fear of Taliban attack, he said, as the Islamist insurgents extend their influence from their southern heartland to the country's north, where attacks are on the increase.
The price of sheep at the market ranges up to 200 dollars and business is brisk ahead of the Eid al-Adha festival of sacrifice and pilgrimage, which marks Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God.
Every Muslim with means is obliged by religion to sacrifice an animal and distribute the meat to the poor.
At Kampany, most of the men buying sheep said charity starts at home.
Nazar Mohammed, a colonel in the Afghan army, stood patiently by the muddy roadside above the market, holding the horns of the sheep he had just bought for 8,500 afghanis.
The animal would be slaughtered on Friday and would feed the 11 members of his family, he said.
"My (monthly) income is just 10,000 afghanis," he said, as the animal reared on its hind legs and let out an angry bleat.
"As much as my income rises, prices just keep getting higher too and making ends meet just gets more difficult. Prices are going up all the time and I find that life is getting harder all the time."
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) put average inflation in Afghanistan in 2008 at almost 27 percent, compared to 13 percent the year before.
In a dollarized economy built on aid and corruption, in a country that imports almost all it consumes, Afghanistan, and especially Kabul, is a sellers' market, for everything from fresh fruit to armored cars.
"About 15 percent of the people in Kabul have money," said Tamim, a shopkeeper in his twenties.
"The rest are poor, and many are so poor they can't afford enough food for their families."
Average annual income in Afghanistan is believed to be around 300 dollars, nothing is certain in a country with few reliable statistics, though income disparity is probably among the highest in the world.
Unemployment, like illiteracy, is estimated at 80 percent of the population, which for lack of a census is put at between 26 million and 30 million.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says the value of Afghanistan's 2007 exports was 327 million dollars, excluding opium, the country's major export product, which is believed to earn an illicit three billion dollars a year.
Corruption has become a byword for Afghanistan's government, even more so since watchdog Transparency International pushed the war-torn country up to second on its global corruption table.
Only lawless Somalia, without a government for decades, is considered more corrupt.
The poverty and corruption help fuel the Taliban-led insurgency, which is spreading its footprint, now across 80 percent of the country, according to the London-based International Council on Security and Development think-tank.
In its most recent report, British charity Oxfam found that 70 percent of Afghans believe joblessness and poverty are major driving forces for the war.
Almost 50 percent identified the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Afghan government as a major cause, Oxfam said.
President Hamid Karzai is under intense international and domestic pressure to act on corruption as a condition for continued support from the US and NATO, which together have more than 100,000 troops trying to keep the Taliban at bay.
"This government can do nothing for itself but stick its hand out for free money and in the meantime people live on garbage heaps just trying to get enough to eat," said a diplomat in Kabul, speaking on condition of anonymity.
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