Khan Wali Khan Basharmal examines how Afghanistan has risen to meet its manifold challenges, and highlights the role of regional cooperation in fostering further progress
Afghanistan’s past has been strewn with troubles. Yet its future looks somewhat brighter as the Afghan government has, over the last four years, experienced many successes in dealing with the country’s numerous security challenges. What is more, the government has identified other critical issues such as energy, infrastructure development and state-building, and outlined technical platforms in furtherance of understanding these concerns. The platforms have paved the way for reforms, bringing solutions to the problems faced by Afghan society in terms of economically strengthening the failed state and bringing to life the political vision of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani.
Initially, the methods adopted by President Ghani seemed very strange to all those working in his cabinet. But as time passed, the cabinet grew serious about implementing his reforms and Afghanistan began to transform.
Effecting change vis-à-vis issues such as reconciliation and the broken,disparate mindset of Afghan religious and political elements was no easy task. Afghans hoped that the period between 2001 and 2014 would eliminate all their miseries caused by the last 40 years of proxy wars. But unfortunately, a monopoly of ex-government members and some international partners and stakeholders empowered and equipped warlords and landlords.
President Ghani is known as a proactive leader. During his tenure he has made 76 trips to provinces within Afghanistan and 73 outside the country. He has also visited Afghanistan’s military corps 36 times. It is acknowledged that he meets over 200 people on a daily basis and over 5000 monthly. This is how President Ghani has come to understand the difficulties the Afghan people are facing. He then directs his executive branch to tackle these problems. Through these actions we can see his individual devotion to state-building and gaining the people’s trust in their government.
After 2014, thousands of foreign troops, aid organisations and NGOs left Afghanistan to fend for itself. This move brought the country to the brink of destruction, with unemployment giving birth to crime and widespread instability. Yet the Afghan government and the people have never given up hope. The Ghani administration established state-run councils, filling the vacant roles left by international organisations and NGOs. These councils have helped to expedite the government’s response to the people’s various concerns.
Today, after 40 years, Afghanistan is meeting half the entire budget of the state’s expenses. It is among the ten most improved countries in the world in terms of small business growth and national and international investment. Afghanistan’s national revenue has increased to 2.2 billion USD. We are no longer dependent on a single state for our exports and imports but now have trade links with South Asia, the Middle East and Europe via Central Asia. Our cabinet ranksfifth out of 50 young Asian states’ cabinets. Women and the youth are empowered. The warlords and conservative political leaders cannot digest this change and try to undermine the role of young people in theAfghan government, which has established a directorate within the Administrative Office of the President to address problems ranging from trade to business and investment.
Addressing an audience during the 2018 inauguration of the Lapis Lazuli corridor – aninternational transit route that links Afghanistan to Turkey via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Georgia – President Ghani said, ‘We will cooperate with our South Asian neighbors in pursuit of mutual benefits, and connect them with Central Asia, the Caucasus and Europe via land.’
Indeed, Afghanistan has increased its capacity in mega-regional projects. Plans are underway to transform the nation into a regional economic and transit hub, even as existing issues of unemployment, poverty and terrorismcontinue tothreaten the future stability of the region. Public pressure on the country’s elite class is another sign thatmass social and political awareness is growing in Afghanistan.
The introduction of new, modernised infrastructure to replaceAsia’s current outdated infrastructure is vital. Leaders across Asia should agree on the continent’s long-term sustainability. Afghanistan’s untapped resources can help to bring other Asian countries under the umbrella of a peaceful Afghanistan while at the same time serving theirown national interests.
They should understand that sustainable development isour future. The terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban are no longer relevant; they have nothing to do with the enlightened outlook for Afghanistan. The lessons that have been taught in Pakistan are in complete contrast with the modern values of Afghanistan. The past is over – now is the time to pursue cooperation, integration and sustainable growth across the region for the benefit of all.
Most of Afghanistan’s population celebrates this goal, and the inauguration of mega-projects like Lapis Lazuli, TAPI, TAP 500 and CASA 1000. But unfortunately, the leadership of some key Asian countries facilitates the continued instability of Afghanistan and the region. These leaders have no clear perspective on regional cooperation and integration, but are mired in traditional rivalry. Yet it is imperative that theycultivate a vision to enable trade, transit and investment through rules and regulations that are workable and acceptable throughout Asia.
Now is the time to come up with a comprehensive strategy to support the peaceinitiative, sustainable growth and development. There should be an open visa system, free of conditions, for investors. All the regional actors should address the rising threat of unemployment, poverty, and instability, making dreams becomereality by working together to bring progress across the region – but not in the presence of fanaticism and the menace of terrorism. A comprehensive strategy is needed to permanently resolve this through developmental planning and a realistic approach.
Afghanistan has sacrificed much to foster stability in the region. Its neighbours therefore have a collective moral responsibility to assist Afghanistan in meeting its challenges, particularly in tackling the baleful threat of ISIS. Terrorism is killing regional stability. ISIS has already announced its caliphates in several regional countries. If it is not stopped, it will become a fire which will wipe out the initiatives started by China, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Russia.
The Afghan state has already proved it can defeat ISIS in the western and eastern parts of the country. ISIS ideals have no place in Afghanistan; they areutterly incompatible with Afghan cultural values and the Afghan mindset, and we will not foster this alien ideology. It is an open secret that any alien culture in Afghanistan is a disaster not only for Afghanistan but for the region as a whole.
It is time to work together. We therefore not only welcome but actively encourage the support of neighbouring countries for President Ghani’s regional connectivity initiatives, and their contributions to the rise of the continental economy.