Thursday, 8 January 2015

Post-Election Afghanistan - Challenges & Concerns

Post-Election Afghanistan:
Challenges and Concerns

Dr. Mozammel Haque

After the election in 2014 there is a new elected government in Afghanistan. Under the new situation, the government and people of the country will naturally face so many issues, challenges and concerns. It may be domestic, running the country, the governance and the other external, how the external forces, both near and distance, such as regional forces and international forces will look at it and what are their inputs into it. Besides these two, internal and external forces and challenges, there is another angle to look into the post-election Afghanistan and that is how the media, intellectual and interested people look at it.

So there are three issues and I would like to see first what are the challenges and prospects Afghanistan has. For this I would prefer to see through the newly elected President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Dr. Ashraf Ghani, who came to the United Kingdom and attended at a discussion event at Chatham House on 4 December, 2014 on the topic Fixing Failed States: From Theory to Practice. This event was chaired by Michael Keating, Senior Consulting Fellow, Asia Programme and a co-director of a two year project, on 'Opportunity in Crisis'.

The format of the event was that the President was in conversation with Mr. Michael Keating, rather than giving a prepared statement, and then took questions.

Immense potentiality of Afghanistan
In conversation with Mr. Keating, the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr. Ashraf Ghani said, “Afghanistan has an immense potential. 75 per cent of Kabul's residents are estimated to have informal property rights rather than full property rights. In 1978, probably not more than 5 per cent was informal.”

Afghanistan location its assets:  The second element, Dr. Ghani said, “is to look at Afghanistan's assets. At first blush, everybody wants to talk about our minerals. I want to reverse the process. We want to first talk about our location. For 200 years, our location has been a disadvantage. In the next 20 years, it's going to become solid gold. All roads between South Asia and Central Asia can only lead through us. We can become the transfer point with East Asia.”

“So we are beginning with the first national infrastructure programme, to connectivity. This will generate the capabilities. We've moved from theory to practice. Central Asia/South Asia 1000 (CASA-1000): it's a project that takes electricity from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan to Afghanistan to Pakistan. It's been signed into law and into an agreement, and $1.2 billion of financing is already there. We are moving to turn our first major river into a source of generation of electricity and creating the connectivities,” said President Ghani.

Afghanistan second asset – water:  Our second asset is water. President Ghani said, “We have five river basins. Except for China, we provide water to every one of our neighbours, yet we only use 10 per cent of our water in modern [indiscernible]. We lose 800 million to 1.5 billion to floods and then another one to droughts. Managing our water is critical now. So 20 dams, all from internal rivers, that have not been completed; will be the driver of this.”

Afghanistan’s third asset – money: Mr. President said the third asset is: we have money. He mentioned, “Our budget is 40 per cent of our GDP but it has not been used to generate economic activities because it's been an abstract relationship between supply and demand. It's these sets of connectivities.”

Dissolution of Soviet Union and reconnecting to past
The second is, President Ghani mentioned, “the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the take-off of Central Asia now, is opening up a set of possibilities regarding resources that previously were not there. We are reconnecting to our remote past. There's a fantastic book by Fred Starr, let me plug it: it's called Lost Enlightenment. It's about Central Asia from the 3rd century BCE to the 12th century. It shows how connected the area was, how the connectivities culturally and economically – that culture and the economy interplayed. So we have very deep structures and [indiscernible] that allow us now to resume.”

Importance attached to China
In conversation with Mr. Keating a question was raised on the importance attached to China, President Ghani said, “Afghanistan is at the confluence of five intersecting circles: neighbours; the Islamic world; the west, Australia, Japan; Asia; international organizations and international firms. China sits in two of those. China and India are an unprecedented story in human annals of history. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. There's a 400-million Chinese middle class. There's a 90-million Indian middle class. We are in the middle of 3 billion people. Afghanistan's economic growth must, by any way, be oriented towards this market. So it just makes immense sense.”

President of Afghanistan continued, “Two, the Silk Belt project of President Xi Jinping, with whom I had the pleasure of detailed discussion, opens up the neighbourhood to the Chinese growth. When you look south, none of the countries of South Asia have come out of factory-driven growth. Growth is divided in three phases: factory-driven, efficiency driven, innovation-driven. None of the countries, including India, have come out to efficiency-driven. China is efficiency-driven, Singapore is innovation-driven. This allows us the diversification, because the value chains in our mining world, in our agriculture and other resources that we do, China is a factor in.”

“Second, China is an immediate neighbour,” President Ghani said.

Mr. Keating urged, “Don't ruin the Wakhan Corridor, Mr President, please.” Dr. Ghani replied, “Don't ruin my economic future. Look, people like you – I apologize for the expression, 'people like you' – are so good about preaching to us but destroying your own environment. Please stop polluting the world and then tell me to preserve the Wakhan Corridor. The deal I propose to you: buy some of our sun and give us some of your rain.”

Preserving the Wakhan corridor
President Ghani then explained, “No, I mean, we will preserve, rightly. Of course we are absolutely keen on preserving the Wakhan Corridor. But the connectivity is important. We need to be able. The pipelines from Turkmenistan and ultimately the Caspian to China are a fundamental story and we are positioning ourselves in that regard. China also has immense experience in infrastructure. The way, if you look at infrastructure in the next 20 years, $36 to 70 trillion are going to be invested in infrastructure globally. A significant part of this is going to be spent in Asia. We want to get our national infrastructure right and the Chinese are going to come and help. Then our mineral wealth requires both, because the transport corridors need to work.”

Mr. Keating: Some would argue that the experience of Chinese investment in Africa, for example, has not been as advantageous as it could have been in terms of strengthening human capital. Sometimes it's even marginalized it.

President Ghani mentioned, “I'm looking at China's investment in Latin America and it's very productive. We're not going to be an African country because we are going to determine our fate. We don't give anyone the right to determine our economic fate. We determine it. It's a partnership. Mining companies in the west did horrors everywhere in the world and we are learning from those. Look at some of the same companies, now they talk of corporate responsibility, but their histories are written in blood and toil. We want to avoid all of this, because our key goal is the citizens. So it's not which companies come from where, it's under which discipline they will work with us. We are keen to develop those.”

Moral courage and determination
President Dr. Ashraf Ghani also said, “The first thing you need a moral compass in order to put the country above yourself. That means you have to generate political capital, not political division. The act that my colleague and friend Dr Abdullah, our VPs, our old friends, were able to take in Afghanistan required both moral courage and determination and a sense that divisive politics would lead to denial of opportunities to the absolute majority of the people. Hence, that's the first point.”

My masters are the citizens
“The second is, creating political will? The first basis of having political will is to have political capital,” said the President and added, “The purpose of the state – if you still speak in that kind of moral language – is to serve the citizens. I'm a servant, and as servant, I know who my masters are. My masters are the citizens of Afghanistan. So we need to be able to generate the decisions that allow this dynamic. We have taken hard decisions. It has resulted in temporary depletion of our political capital, but because they were based on well-thought-through actions, the capital got enhanced.”

Opium biggest supplier to the world
“You are the biggest supplier to the world. How are you going control it?” questions came at the Q & A session. Answering to the Questions, President Ghani said, “Narcotics has three components: consumers, transiters and producers, and processers. Yes, we acknowledge we are the largest producer and processer. Who in the room will raise their hand as to where the largest consumers are? The price of an ounce is $1.10 in Afghanistan, $1.15 in Iran, $42 in London, $46 (around that) in Amsterdam. These are global chains. Let us deal with the issue together. We need an alliance without blame games.”

“If there is a will in the consumer countries to legalize drugs, we have no comparative advantage. Any hothouse will grow it. If there is not that political will, then let us come to solve the problems together,” said President Ghani and raised the question, “Where is the solution? The key to the solution is transformation of Afghanistan's agriculture. Drug dealers pay $17 a day for labour, unskilled labour. The largest public programme pays $2 a day. Where do you think unemployed people make their choice? In theory we have access to the markets of advanced industrial countries. In practice, we don't, because we don't have the knowledge, the value chain. Who can help us most? Tesco, Wal-Mart, the consortium of supermarket chains; that know how to organize supply and demand,” President Ghani mentioned.

He also said, “The other is we are looking very much forward to persuading Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to link their food security with long-term investment in our agriculture, because that transformation is fundamental. Without this – and the history of drug eradication in Thailand and others should be an example.”

Traditional policy of neutrality of Afghanistan
Replying to another question on the traditional policy of neutrality of Afghanistan, President Ghani said, “We're an intersecting point. We want to make sure we're not a battlefield, and we're not indifferent: we are dying on a daily basis. You think that is from neutrality? We need to make sure that the world becomes whole. Our interconnected world is not into spheres of neutral or left or right, or red or green. It is an integrated approach that is required to our interconnected world. We are very strong advocates of a regional compact on peace, on stability and prosperity. Our position as the intersection point of Asia forces us to think through. The intersection of the negative side, that soft belly of globalization, again forces us to have alliances, to protect our people and to protect your people in the world.”

Afghan President also maintained, “So it's a new context, and in this context we want to make sure, one, that our territory is not used against any of our neighbours. And I can assure you that it is not. But second, we are not going to permit anybody to use our territories as a ground for proxy battles. We are not the playing field of anyone. We have earned the right to peace and we are going to ensure that no one looks at us as a playing field for any of their ideas, negative ideas. Positively, we are ground for cooperation and that, I think, we will ensure.”

Pakistan in the future political
and economic development
In reply to another question on how great of barrier or facilitator Pakistan in the future political and economic development of Afghanistan, Afghan President said, “Pakistan and Afghanistan are facing an historic choice together. Do we become the cul de sac that stops Asia's economic integration, or do we become the lynchpin of this economic integration? We are vital to each other. The dialogue we have started is promising. We are cautiously optimistic. It is essential both to our mutual security, to Asia's future and to global security that we share a common understanding of the problem and reach common solutions.”

Future emancipation of women
In reply to another question on the future emancipation of women in Afghanistan, Afghan President said, “Women absolutely central.” In terms of legal issues – “We want to make sure legal personality is established because this is the base of legal rights,” said President Ghani and added, “Second is that the court system… –Rule of law is the fundamental part of empowerment of the women, so the rights that they have, both under Shari'a and under civil law and criminal law, are accorded to them.”

Afghan President emphasized, “But what is really fundamental is economic empowerment of the women. Here, my request to all the international community: please stop their training courses. What I asked the French foreign minister yesterday I'm extending to all of you: if you really want to help our women, get the designers in London, Frankfurt, Paris, New York and Tokyo together to design a 'made by Afghan women' label. Open up your department stores to our women's products. Give us real credit, not micro-credit, for women's entrepreneurship. Let's think grand-scale. The west loves to talk about the rights of women – could you match it, please, with some practice with us? We are willing – will you partner so that we get real empowerment of women? The image of the empowered woman is that of my grandmother. She had six sons and none of them dared cull the couple of thousand acres of land that she had in her own right and from her husband ever. She has been dead for 40 years, they are still not dividing it, still [indiscernible] estate. The reason was twofold. One, she was educated. She had been educated in exile, in India, and then returned. Two, she had property. Without the economic basis, the legal rights do not translate. It is fundamentally important to get that part.”

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