Afghanistan is once again in the global spotlight as world leaders and donors and other interested parties meet in London to attempt to bring shape and cohesion to a country that has known little but warfare for more than 30 years. This is the first post-Karzai moot of any size or heft, and it had a positive edge to it. It was a telling comment by John Kerry, US secretary of state, that indicated that a fresher breeze was blowing — “We have a government in Kabul that merits our confidence” — and went on to say that Afghanistan can be confident of the support of the international community. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also in attendance and seemingly keen to build on the warming of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan that has flowed from the visit of President Ashraf Ghani to Pakistan last month. There as well was the Afghan Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah, who, against the grain of cynical analysis, is building a useful working relationship with President Ghani.
Every conference about Afghanistan is important but some are more important than others, and in terms of importance, the London moot is head and shoulders above the rest. The country after 13 years of war — a war which continues — has an aid-based economy at one level and is drug-dependent at another, with the world’s largest crop of opium poppies feeding the global heroin habit. The largest genuine revenue earner is pomegranates and it is a long way from replacing the ubiquitous poppy. The Pakistani prime minister spoke of a “Transformation Decade” during which he hoped that Afghanistan would become self-reliant. It remains a country deeply in crisis and it will be so for years to come. That said and accepted, there really is a more positive ‘feel’ to bilateral relations, and a willingness to work together to share and perhaps, even resolve some of the problems that have dogged relations between us for far too long. Almost by chance, a climate of opportunity has developed in the last four or five months. We cannot afford to miss the opportunities it offers.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 6th, 2014.