Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Wednesday, March 22nd, 2023

The Challenges and Opportunities of Regional Economic Cooperation in Afghanistan

Locating in heart of Asia, Afghanistan can create macroeconomic and political opportunities in the region and even global level.  As Afghanistan bordered by six countries including Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan in the north, it has a great position to link the markets of South Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia, and China. Therefore, Afghanistan, as transit and transport hub, can benefit billions of people in the region, but has not been successful in exploiting this unique central location.
To talk about the challenges and opportunities this central area in regional economic cooperation, we need to raise several questions about this topic such as how can we exploit from the unexploited geo-economic location of this country? How this location has been defined in last two decades, and what were weakness and threats?  What are the regional agendas and policies of Afghanistan about regional economic Cooperation? What regional mechanisms are needed to overcome the current challenges? And more importantly what are the role of regional and global powers in the success and failure of the macroeconomic projects of this central area? Undoubtedly, the geo-strategic position of Afghanistan can create tens of macroeconomic projects in the region, but there are different challenges and barriers which have deprived Afghanistan and regional countries from the benefits of this location. The first and most important factor is the empowerment of terrorist groups, drug cultivation and trafficking, ISIS, organized crimes, and more importantly the senseless rivalries of regional powers which made our country the center of instability and crisis instead of benefiting from its unique land-link location. The second factor which can be raised here is the unconstructive approach of global powers. Although they know where the nets and bases of terrorist groups are and who supports them, they avoid this big issue and so it has prevented the formation of a single dynamism for collective cooperation in the region. The big regional projects such as Turkmenistan Gas Transmission Projects from Afghanistan to Pakistan and India (TAPI) Tajikistan Power Transmission through Afghanistan to Pakistan, Railway Infrastructure and Roads between Regional Countries and also other big projects which play important role in creating revenue and security sources in Afghanistan and also in the region have faced serious threats and challenges. The success and effectiveness of these types of projects requires security and strong regional will and cooperation of international and regional powers. The third factor which has acted as a barrier against regional cooperation and exploitation from the geo-economic location of Afghanistan is our internal weaknesses. Unfortunately, the apparatus of our foreign policy has not been successful in holding a balanced and neutral policy in the region. Accordingly, we have not been successful in national oneness because of failing in having an inclusive and pluralistic policy at the national level. As long as we are not united and not have a fair, moderate, pluralistic political system, we would not be strong enough to defend this land and country. We must learn lessons from the past that any monopolistic mentality will not lead to peace and prosperity in Afghanistan.   Unfortunately, some circles including Taliban have not learned from the past and are addicted to act as an inheritor of past monopolistic policies which were based on exclusion, injustice, ethnicity, oppression, and xenophobia. Based on this monopolistic view, the Taliban entered the politics of Afghanistan by destroying and shedding blood while fattened by the intellectual origins of Islamic fundamentalists.  With dogmatic and monopolistic views towards power, they have not only has blocked the way of progress and development of Afghanistan but also has challenged the regional economic cooperation. Now, the national and international community unanimously insist on securing peace in Afghanistan, but they stand against universal values and veto everyone’s wishes; the resistance of these groups to the peace process has added to the complexities of war and peace in Afghanistan while every day a new dimension is added to it. However, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has gained some relative achievements in the last two decades in regional cooperation.
In fact, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has shown strong will in strengthening regional cooperation in the last two decades. The foreign policy of Afghanistan based on the principles of strengthening regional cooperation has been one of the important achievements of Afghanistan’s foreign policy over the past decade. The increasing role of Afghanistan in the development of regional cooperation has been recognized in numerous declarations by countries in the region. for example, the Declaration of Good Neighborhood 2002, the Declaration of 2003 Dubai, the 2003 Berlin Agreement, the 2004 Bishkek Conference, the 2005 Kabul Conference, and dozens of conferences and agreements during the presidency of Ashraf Ghani have emphasized on the defining of Afghanistan’s vital role in regional cooperation and connectivity.
In general, Afghanistan has moved towards regional cooperation in the last two decades, but it has been negatively influenced by different factors as above-mentioned. Firstly, it is interest of the regional countries to support forming a fair, moderate and pluralistic system in Afghanistan so as to overcome the common threats threatens the regional cooperation and connectivity. Secondly, we must note that Afghanistan alone cannot address the obstacles to realizing its full potential as a regional hub and needs a regional approach to turn these weaknesses into core competencies. This regional approach may include regional cooperation, regional integration, and the attraction of investment in Afghanistan’s infrastructure that will turn it into a regional hub for trade and transit. Third, the Afghan government should avoid adopting any hostile economic policies preferring one than others. It is also advisable that the Afghan government and other regional actors avoid intermingling the economy and politics.