Why we should be optimistic about Afghanistan
By Erlan Idrissov,
The view that chaos and violence inevitably await Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in 2014 is misguided. Indeed, this sort of prognosis is a potentially dangerous self-fulfilling prophecy.
The fact is that there is actually cause for some optimism that with the right level of assistance from its friends and neighbors, and through the creation of a peaceful environment in its immediate neighborhood, Afghanistan can overcome its historical isolation and take its rightful place in the heart of Asia.
This week, Almaty – Kazakhstan’s second city – will host foreign ministers participating in the Istanbul Process in support of Afghanistan. The meeting, building on a process launched in November 2011, will provide important opportunities to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.
The Istanbul Process, which brings together 15 regional countries supported by 16 members of the international community and numerous international organizations, has developed a wide-range of activities and measures across fields including political and security, economic, education, cultural and legal. Included are confidence-building measures in areas such as counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics, emergency situations, trade opportunities and regional infrastructure.
A key step toward a more stable Afghanistan is the development of transportation links to facilitate trade within the region, and Afghanistan can benefit hugely from the creation of the “New Silk Road,” bringing together Eurasia and South Asia via new road, rail and energy corridors.
As the largest land-locked country in the world, Kazakhstan has a strong interest in having the best possible access to global markets, including to its south. The stabilization of Afghanistan and its pursuit of harmonious relations with its neighbors are an important part of that process, as is the normalization of Iran’s relations with the international community.
All this means that integrating Afghanistan into its neighborhood should create a “win-win” situation for all the countries in the region and for the international community as a whole. But it won’t be easy, and it is necessary for all involved to gradually establish the conditions for the Afghan people to find the political solutions that can unite the country and provide the necessary leadership for long-term renewal.
The reality is that there are no magic solutions to Afghanistan’s problems, and we must accept the fact that only Afghans can decide the country’s way forward. The international community should therefore limit its efforts to promoting the social and economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan and stay out of politics.
Afghanistan’s population is 70 to 80 percent rural, and encouraging Afghans back into productive employment on the land could have a major economic impact and improve the security situation in much of the country. With this in mind, Kazakhstan has been training Afghan agricultural specialists, and has also provided large volumes of seed. It has also provided professional training for 1,000 Afghan students in its higher education institutions in areas ranging from engineering to medicine as part of a $50 million program aimed at helping Afghanistan overcome a difficult legacy in education.
A further challenge is that Afghanistan remains the undisputed global leader in production and supply of illicit heroin and opium to the global market. The criminalization of Afghanistan’s economy is creating serious problems in many countries along the main export routes for these products, including in Kazakhstan. The only reliable way to combat this is to develop an economy that supports other types of legal activity. At present, opium poppy production is the only social safety net for many farmers.
Solutions too many of Afghanistan’s problems are obvious. What is usually much less clear is how to create an environment that is conducive to applying them.
The Istanbul Process is one such way, and is a natural means of integrating Afghanistan into a regional cooperation framework.
As Afghanistan’s government takes over responsibility for the country’s security, its relations with neighboring countries are already taking on increased prominence. As neighbors, we feel we must live up to our responsibilities and make the most of this opportunity.
Editor’s note: Erlan Idrissov is minister of foreign affairs in Kazakhstan. The views expressed are his own.