Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Economic Development & Security Should Top Afghan Government Agenda for the Year 2019

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Economic Development & Security Should Top Afghan  Government Agenda for the Year 2019

Fixing problems of a country that has been churning in grinding intrinsic war since last more than forty years is inherently not a task so easy. The body responsible for and inherited this job is central Government in Kabul. It is accepted norm that any post war set up in a country is inherently entangled with myriad of problems, including corruption and lack of capacity to run Government institutions, but there has been a limit for such acceptance when it comes to time and resources and Afghanistan has exceeded the limit in term of both time and resources. It has been seventeen years in a row that tens of billions of US dollars is being injected in Afghan Government budget – both for civilian and military sectors – every year, but improvement in governance and internal Government efforts to fix institutions and train, discipline, increase capacity and organize manpower towards delivery of good governance and better defense and provision of security to masses is almost non-existing. Though there have been efforts since formation of National Unity Government (NUG) in September 2014 to eradicate corruption and increase capacity in the ranks of officials at various Government departments, these efforts have been confined to official slogans, documents and meetings with donors, and have had no effects on the ground, and the trend continues to survive year in and year out, which has taken immense toll on social, economic, security and geopolitical issues in the country with ramification to negatively sap donors and development partners’ interests and enthusiasm in the process of efforts to stabilize the country. 
In the face of ongoing entrenched insurgency, unparalleled corruption, disarray in the ranks of Government departments, lack of a viable economic and war strategy, challenges posed by stakeholders’ interests at global and regional levels and lack of Government capacity to manage prevailing situation, it is imperative that Government focus on the most important tasks laid bare before it for the year 2019, which include strengthening capability of defense and security institutions, developing and implementing a viable economic strategy and improving governance at all level and across geographical Afghan land-mass.  At the top of these problems stand two most important ones i.e. economic and security issues. Government should exert utmost efforts, allocate time and siphon resources towards developing and implementing a viable economic strategy. The most practical options laid bare before Government to exploit are developing of transit route – both for transfer of energy from Central Asian Countries to South-East Asian nations, including India and Pakistan; and to develop and practically exploit endowments in the country – particularly the extractive industry – which include trillions of dollars of almost untouched mines of minerals and energy resources. The development of economic resources, which lead to economic freedom and development of a strong economy has never been important than any time before for the Government of Afghanistan. In fact, economic freedom and availability of domestic resources will provide space for the Government of Afghanistan to maneuver and freely decide on issues of national importance, and fund projects of long-term strategic importance and development for the country. It goes without saying that projects of national and long-term strategic interests cannot be funded by money – either borrowed or provided in donations. Afghanistan owes her present standing to international partners, including the United States of America, NATO member countries, Japan, India, China and other partners, but support from these partners in developing a stable Afghanistan can only help Afghanistan to acquire enough means and dynamic to develop her own tools for bringing into being a sustainable, stable economy and resources to support her journey towards a stabilized and developed nation.
Afghanistan and Iraq have started their journey towards reconstruction, stabilization and rebuilding a viable, strong economy and security forces almost at the same time in their recent history, but Iraq has galloped towards reaching these goals and Afghanistan lags behind by years. Main reason for this imbalance is economic resources and financial freedom, which Iraq had enjoyed right from the beginning because of her endowment in the form of natural petroleum resources, but despite availability of opportunities to exploit her natural endowments – as mentioned before – Afghanistan has been trapped in donor-funded economy, which continues to derail this country off the track from a sustainable economic development. Therefore, Afghan Government should immediately embark on pursuing large, global corporations and countries, and offer them attractive packages to develop Afghan extractive industry. Attractive offers shall mean comparative, extra-benefits / advantages to firms which are interested in investment and development of Afghan extractive industry, and the reason for offering attractive packages is the lack of resources, skilled people and money with Afghan Government to build roads, tunnels, bridges to connect transit / transportation of extracted materials, and to provide power and other amenities required at locations of these mines in the heart of mountainous stretches where these mines are buried. In addition, Afghan Government should encourage its partners in development to provide educational and training scholarships to Afghan students in the fields of extractive industry so that by the time requirement of skilled and trained personnel are needed enough of them are available. Donor countries’ fatigue has already surfaced due their longest intervention in term of financing, provision of military assistance including men, weapons and equipment in support of stabilization and building of state institutions in Afghanistan. This fatigue has never been more obvious than during last two years when Government of Donald Trump has taken over the White House, and other donor countries including NATO member countries have established benchmarks for Afghan Government leadership to meet certain standards before further monetary support can be sanctioned. These benchmarks comprised steps taken against corruption, delivery of good governance and provision of comparative security for the people and fostering of viable economy in order to retain younger, educated generation inside the country to assist in the process of rebuilding the country.
Security has been the number one issue facing Afghan Government, but it has many dimensions which can exonerate Afghan Government for failure to curtail or totally eradicate it as major sources for insecurity are international terror groups operating in Afghanistan, support provided to terrorists and insurgent groups by Afghanistan neighbors – particularly by Pakistan – and lack of a comprehensive, unified and consistent strategy on the part of stakeholders including US and other NATO member countries to stand firm and voice in unity against the countries who support terrorism and ongoing insurgency inside Afghanistan. In addition, lack of a unified strategy oriented to conditions in Afghanistan among stakeholders / countries involved in stabilizing Afghanistan continues to take immense toll on the efforts, and causes waste of resources, time and human lives. Stakeholder nations’ strategies are based on urges emanating from policies devised in their home countries, which are based on priorities constructed out of their national interests – not based on conditions in Afghanistan. This should change in 2019, and stakeholder countries should develop a plan whereby matters related to Afghanistan should be assessed by looking at conditions and progress on the ground inside Afghanistan – not based on different political parties’ election campaign promises and so called national priorities of the stakeholders’ countries when they come in power. Afghanistan should be looked at as a separate mega project and every decision about it should be taken based on realities in the ground because Afghanistan is already victim of international terrorism, and Afghans are already offering their blood (with consistent death toll of almost two thousands security personnel and civilian casualties per month). This country has come a long way since last seventeen years, and we already have a system in place. Supporting Afghanistan at this critical juncture by her international partners and regional powers will contribute to world security and economic development and money spent, resources utilized will be paid back in many folds by a stable and prosperous Afghanistan in not too distant timeframe.

Mohammed Gul Sahibbzada is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammed.g.sahibbzada@gmail.com

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