Reconnecting Afghanistan

Published: December 11, 2014
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The writer is a defence and security analyst, chairman of the Pathfinder Group and director of the East West Institute

The writer is a defence and security analyst, chairman of the Pathfinder Group and director of the East West Institute

The lack of economic opportunities for the populace in Afghanistan is a major impediment to peace and stability. Without an adequate industrial base and/or agriculture infrastructure, guns-for-hire in abundance as a means to finding income is neither conducive for foreign direct investment nor for domestic entrepreneurial initiatives. That a small elite cabal with fixed mindsets returned after the fall of the Taliban to occupy seats of power in Kabul, does not help.

Economic resurgence for land-locked countries requires facilitating trade to and through their territory.  The EastWest Institute (EWI), a New York-based leading US think tank, headed by Ross Perot Junior, initiated the “Abu Dhabi Process” — a cross-border trade dialogue co-funded by Abu Dhabi and Germany — between Afghanistan and the countries on its periphery. Hosted by the EWI, the recent Istanbul conference encouraged businesses in South and Central Asia to themselves take necessary initiatives to unlock trade and kick-start the war-ravaged Afghan economy.

For the short-term, the recommended ways forward included: a) a regional business council comprising influential business leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iran, CARs, Turkey and Iran; b) one-window custom clearance systems by Afghanistan and improved border sources at Torghundi, Hairatan, Torkham, Chaman, Wagah and Sher Khan Bandar and other border points to reduce time and cost of crossing; c) a generous visa regime to enable businesses to move around easily (under Saarc for the short-term and the Economic Cooperation Organisation for the long-term); d) regional entrepreneurship exchange programmes to promote trade and investment opportunities.

The mid-term recommendations included: a) a unified transaction mechanism system and a regional banking framework; b) standardising the Afghan tax structure to entice business investment; and c) a free trade zone Fata. The long-term recommendations were: a) a regional infrastructure trust fund, with India, Turkey, China, Russia, Pakistan and Afghanistan as donors to invest in designing, developing and expanding transport means, such as railways; and b) the implementation of CASA-1000, TAPI projects and other regional energy projects (without mention by name of the Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline). The threat of US sanctions remain, and while Pakistan has no intention of bucking that, the Iranian portion is in place at the border at two places, 70 kilometres from Gwadar and 250 kilometres to connect into the extensive Pakistani gas pipeline infrastructure, with planned connections into Fata and Swat.

Recent significant and symbolic events confirm that Ashraf Ghani is a game-changer in the context of the Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship.  To quote a recent article of mine,Throwing aside diplomatic norms, the Afghanistan’s President visited GHQ immediately after landing at Islamabad. A foreign Head of State heading straight towards a military HQ on arrival carries a lot more than ceremonial importance, the Afghan President means business because he well understands where the real power concerning national security rests. Ashraf Ghani described his discussions later with the Pakistani PM as ‘a shared vision to serve as the heart of Asia, ensuring economic integration by enhancing connectivity between South and Central Asia through energy, gas and oil pipelines becoming a reality and not remaining a dream. The narrative for the future must include the most neglected of our people to become stakeholders in a prosperous economy in stable and peaceful countries, our faiths are linked because terror knows no boundaries. We have overcome obstacles of 13 years in three days, we will not permit the past to destroy the future’.” How will the Afghan president overcome the ‘hate Pakistan’ mindset of a few Kabul diehards, some of these ingrates even born and educated in Pakistan, who must even now be conspiring to cut him down to size?

That the future would not be held hostage by the past was symbolised by the US repatriating (with Afghan consent) Latif Mehsud along with two other militant commanders from Bagram into Pakistani custody. In another one of my articles, I had said, “The capture of the senior leader of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Hakeemullah Mehsud’s No 2, by US Special Forces represents the ‘smoking gun’ about the Afghan regime’s sustained involvement in terrorism in Pakistan. In the company of the Afghan National Directorate of Security (NDS) agents taking their prized asset to Kabul to meet senior government officials, Latif Mehsud was simultaneously on the American ‘most wanted list’. India’s RAW is using the NDS as a proxy to sustain and support the TTP’s brutal campaign within Pakistan. To its credit, despite Karzai’s fury at the US for his capture (Daily Telegraph, October 13, 2013), this cut no ice with the US, and it signalled that as its enemy, Latif Mehsud would remain in its custody.” The act of handing over this terrorist is a confidence-building measure that will reduce the trust deficit and build on the excellent fast developing working relationship.

Realpolitik is the product of cold, calculated pragmatism based on economics. Afghanistan will make billions of dollars from system-collected royalties from the Central Asian Corridor passing through its geographical location. Without a continuous flow of gas and power, economic resurgence in Pakistan will remain moribund. The EWI’s Abu Dhabi Process emphasises that the entire region stands to gain exponentially from constructive trade and commerce engagement.

Afghanistan has finally found its man of destiny in Ghani. How long before a leader in Pakistan rises above selfishness and greed for the sake of the country? 

Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (8)

  • Rahul
    Dec 11, 2014 - 1:52AM

    Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project is dead as a doorknob. Maybe some government is going to waste money in Afghanistan, but no private investor is going there. A free trade zone in FATA. What are they going to trade? Guns and IED’s!. You spew hatred against India and expect it to facilitate your trade corridor! I am sure Ross Perot junior has lots of ideas about how other people should spend their money, I am also sure he is not putting any of his own into this. Most of Afghanistan’s central Asian neighbors are aligned with the Northern-Alliance which is a Tajik-Uzbek outfit. Pakistan is aligned with the Afghan Taliban which is a Pashtun outfit. The most probable out come is that they will carve up the country along ethnic lines a-la Iraq. Pakistan better hope that ones the Pashtuns get their country, they don’t try to combine it with FATA. It is okay to make plans and write reports and hold conferences, but ground realities intrude.

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  • Da Mor Mera
    Dec 11, 2014 - 6:32AM

    First and foremost, Latifullah Mehsud was released without the consent of the Afghan government by the US.

    Secondly, the elite cabal of the Pakistani establishment has played an obstructionist role in implementing APTTA in letter and spirit. The question of a mutually beneficial trade corridor will only come to pass if and when Pakistan reverses its India centric policies vis a vis Afghanistan.

    Finally, the writer and his ilk use condescending language while advocating stronger ties and economic cooperation. You cannot burn bridges and mend fences simultaneously by trying to factionalize Afghans and calling them ingrates. Come correct and you will see reciprocity.

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  • aussie
    Dec 11, 2014 - 7:41AM

    An excellent article, by a person closely versed with high level thinking on the topic.

    The point of difference in this article is that it reveals some light now beginning to show at the end of the tunnel. Conventional wisdom is that after the pull-out we will have a real mess there, and consequently here, due to mass unemployment and shrinking foreign aid to Afghanistan. But if the energy and trade corridors open up, things can change very significantly for this region.

    It is possible that the USA, of which the EWI has key representation as per their web-site, may have acquired the unfortunate habit of leaving festering wounds untreated for other powers to treat and heal. The greater likelihood now is that they would be interested in resolving issues by seeking better outcomes along lines which the US may prefer and where some goodwill could still be salvaged by them.

    The superpower has more or less run out of the resources and the public mindset to continue with notions of perpetual global warfare.

    If at this time Pakistan could come up with even modest new leadership, who did not have the over-whelming baggage of safeguarding misdeeds past, present, and future, and who could keep their wits about for 2 years, we could see some positive change happen.

    — Aussie: Shahid Saleem Arshad, Sydney, Australia

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  • Zalmai
    Dec 11, 2014 - 8:55AM

    @ Rahul

    The Afghan political landscape is not a monolithic Northern Alliance vs Taliban, it is dynamic, fluid and nuanced.

    Both Pakistan and India lack a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan and underestimate the will of the Afghan people to guard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

    Afghanistan cannot be carved up along ethnic lines because all ethnic groups are opposed to it and they remain committed to a united Afghanistan, despite the best efforts of India and Pakistan to factionalize Afghans.

    Afghanistan has been around since 1747 and it will be around for a long time to come. India and Pakistan better get used to this fact.

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  • Da Mor Mera
    Dec 11, 2014 - 9:24AM

    First and foremost, Latifullah Mehsud was released without the consent of the Afghan government by the US.

    Secondly, the elite cabal of the Pakistani establishment has played an obstructionist role in implementing APTTA in letter and spirit. The question of a mutually beneficial trade corridor will only come to pass if and when Pakistan reverses its India centric policies vis a vis Afghanistan.

    Finally, the writer and his ilk use condescending language while advocating stronger ties and economic cooperation. You cannot burn bridges and mend fences simultaneously by trying to factionalize Afghans and calling them ingrates. Come correct and you might gain dividends.

    Recommend

  • Arsalan Ahmed
    Dec 11, 2014 - 11:10AM

    @Rahul You are talking what is absolutely opposite to the ground realities. Pakistan spews hatred against India? See this –>
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/512867/india-financed-problems-for-pakistan-from-afghanistan-chuck-hagel/
    And there is not any lack of proof with the Pakistani authorities about how India is financing problems for Pakistan since its inception until now.
    For facilitating the trade corridor between Afg and Pak, spewing hatred against India is least relevant. And nobody is willing to spend in Afghanistan? Well India has been stressing on it and it has invested.

    http://www.voanews.com/content/india-presses-private-investment-afghanistan/1266703.html
    http://cogitasia.com/boosting-indias-foreign-direct-investment-in-afghanistan/

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  • Grace
    Dec 13, 2014 - 2:11AM

    @Zalmai: Come on; we all know that Afghanistan is controlled by India. This is the reality since 1947 and before that the King of Afghanistan also gave up control to the British administration in India in exchange for his seat on the throne. Afghanistan cannot change from being a basket case until it starts to work together with its own people and stop being political slaves of Indians. Think about how Afghanistan have been base for Indian intelligence agencies and agents but all Afghanistan got was trouble. Now all the Afghans are smuggling themselves to Western countries for decades to live like refugees on social assistance in Western countries. Europe, North America and Australia is full of asylum people from Afghanistan.

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  • Zalmai
    Dec 13, 2014 - 2:18PM

    @ Grace

    Your handle is the exact opposite of your character. You spew nothing but hateful and belligerent nonsense that only you believe in, the world knows better. Its the old case of the the pot calling the kettle black.

    US and Canada is full of Pakistanis on welfare. Your Sheikh ul Islam, Qadri is a welfare recipient and Pakistan is a rentier state doing the bidding of its colonial masters and their Arab servants since its inception.

    We don’t name our cities, mosques and stadiums after Arab tyrants. We actually have an identity and our history speaks for itself. You on the other hand have lost every war you fought against your former selves. You should read Hussain Haqqani’s Magnificent Delusions and get a real understanding of your country. Your version of history is distorted and full of lies.

    ET: Please don’t censor my post. Grace’s posts are venomous vitriol.

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