Saving Afghanistan through economic reforms – a way out of failed statism

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SHAFAQNA – A country in perpetual war Afghanistan has seen more violence and bloodshed than any other countries in the region. Sitting atop a powerful juncture of geopolitical lay lines, this broken institutional shell of a nation has ironically been plagued by its untapped financial potential – both an economic gem and a military chokepoint of crucial importance Afghanistan has been victimized by other powers’ greed and colonial ambitions. For centuries empires have ambitioned to rule mighty over this proud nation, a crossroad in between East and West.

Burdened now by a religious radicalism which roots are found in Wahhabism, Afghanistan has battled to reclaim control over its land, its people, and the religious pluralism which once set it apart from other nations in the region; mainly Pakistan. In the throes of a war of attrition against the Taliban, and other radical militant groups Afghanistan wants to forge a new path, and reinvent dynamics based on collaboration, and partnership instead of hegemonic supremacism.

As the country continues to face the barrel of a gun, state officials have decided to utilize their nation’s natural resources, and geographical access to promote economic stability, as to ultimately suffocate radicalism in a network of powerful politico-economic alliances which interests would lie in the promotion of socio-economic stability, and not chaos. To succeed of course Afghanistan would have to tame the head of the dragon, and the powers which, from the shadows have pulled and pushed the country into the abyss to better rise the masters of a broken people.

Afghanistan’s tale, like that of so many, is one of imperialism and colonialism, manipulations and cover agendas. But for all its scars, and the institutional pain it endured Afghanistan is also a country with a wealth of experience – which experience its officials appear willing and ready to put into action to the benefit of the collective over the few.

Under the influence of dedicated figureheads such as Prince Ali Seraj of Afghanistan, the war-torn nation is just about ready to turn a new leaf, and to embrace economic growth to heal its shattered institutions.

Earlier this March Afghan government negotiators and a number of Taliban representatives sat across the negotiation table in Islamabad, Pakistan, and broker a tentative truce. Although an immediate agreement on peace was not achieved – Rome was not built in a day – such a political breakthrough is not to be taken lightly.

As Prince Ali Seraj himself noted: “The meeting is considered to be a positive event after a bloody year and frostier than ever relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan.The increasing rate of terror attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan poses a significant threat to both nations and risks spilling over into neighboring countries. To prevent wider regional instability, action must be taken now. The solution lies in fostering political, economic and social cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This cooperation must be based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.”

While cooperation in between Afghanistan and Pakistan might seem logical to most due to their geography and seemingly common social markers, their shared history has been fraught with tensions, suspicious and covert attempts at destabilization.

Dr Hatem Massoumi, an independent researcher with the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies explained how Afghanistan  very much looks at the Taliban as a Pakistani creation – “a covert bid to dissolve Afghanistan’s state institutions to better orchestrate a takeover of its political and economic future. Although officials have denied any wrongdoings in relation to terror, it is only too clear that Islamabad has offered the Taliban shelter and safe passage to wield influence against its neighbour. It is important to remember that Pakistan and Afghanistan have a very old and very unresolved territorial dispute – one which goes back to 19th century and Britain’s Durand Line Agreement.”

Prince Ali Seraj which shares in such an assessment believes that the only way out of the ongoing crisis would be to “achieve a mutually supportive commitment to face up to the security challenges, it is necessary to foment the political determination for resolving past differences and creating new narratives.”

He added: “At root, the most viable solution to the Central Asian security issue lies in ensuring significantly improved employment opportunities as the foundation to greater shared financial security. Where the general population feels direct benefits from improved conditions, it generates a sense of stake-holder ownership which ensures stability and a desire for continued improvement of the situation. There are two major points of contention that are keeping Pakistan from reaching an agreement of non-intervention with Afghanistan: the enduring dispute over the Durand Line, and its conflict with India.”

A temporary agreement in between Imperial Britain, and Amir Abdur Rahman Khan in 1893, the Durand Line  – named after Sir Mortimer Durand, was never meant to act as a border, but rather a delimitation of influence, a buffer zone of sort for the Crown in Eurasia, at a time when other powers in the region were working to expand their own power. Under British law the Durand Line had a 90-year validity.

“When Pakistan was created in 1947, the British violated the treaty and assigned the Afghan territory laying on the east side of the Durand Line to Pakistan. Afghanistan protested and presented its case to the League of Nations, but was outvoted and the line was accepted as a border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. To this day, every Afghan government, since the creation of Pakistan, has never accepted the line and considered the area to be part of the Afghan Pashtun tribal area and referred to it as Pashtunistan,” noted Prince Seraj in an analysis.

This one territorial fault-line, this one affront against Afghanistan’s territorial integrity, and sovereignty is at the root of today’s terror crisis – the spark which set an entire region alit.

Today, in the face of fast changing regional dynamics Pakistan needs to make a friend out of Afghanistan – an opportunity Kabul appears determine to take advantage of to seal a strong partnership. To achieve such a feat Prince Ali Seraj believes Afghanistan’s best bet would be the creation of a “Six by Six common market system embracing the region’s six Islamic nations: Pakistan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan.”

He explained: “Within this winning alliance, Afghanistan would be a Free Trade Zone, reviving the Silk Route, through which all of its neighbors would benefit from the resulting trade traffic. The region should have soft borders and the railroad system from the neighboring five nations should be extended into Afghanistan. To help trade opportunities, the populous living within this economic zone would be allowed to cross borders with agreed travel documents. A Central Asian Common Market would open the road to trade and commerce not only within the member countries, but for all of Asia and Europe.  It would create jobs in the tens of thousands. All goods heading East, West, North and South would be warehoused in Afghanistan and then shipped via rail, road or air to their respective destinations. Furthermore, it would reduce tensions between the West, Russia and China as they would be working together to ensure the security of the six Common Market Nations.”

If territorial, political, and even military upset can appear insurmountable at times, economic alliances have a way of easing up tensions, and reframing issues which should not be ignored. As it maybe Afghanistan’s best chance at a bright future could lie in the establishment of a common economic zone to match that of the European Union

By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies

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