Exit and forget. Escape and regret. These are the two modes and moods many countries are conducting themselves vis-a-vis Afghanistan. The first reaction of these countries was shock and disbelief. That quickly changed to panic and confusion. The desperate rescue operation witnessed some heroic and some tragic stories. From exit to evacuation it was all about fleeing and flying. The chaos was self-explanatory. What is not understandable is the reluctance to develop a clear strategy to prevent the same mistakes they made post-exit when they left Afghanistan after the Soviet war. If a terror-free peaceful Afghanistan will ensure that no more terror attacks take place on US and other countries then cutting off their financial and legal life lines is a contradiction. Cutting these life lines is as bad as drones killing innocent civilians or bombs decimating human existence.
Afghanistan is a country that has been ravaged by 20 years of war internally and externally. Countries can never develop amidst destruction, conflict and terror. Afghanistan has faced all three nearly all the time. Conflicts are toxic for sustainability. Uncertainty is a cancer for productivity. Afghanistan is a case study of how peace and stability have become distant dreams for its people. Foreign experiments have failed, local fights have created division, and puppet governments have created more resentment and corruption. With strategic failure of every sort, the obvious solution would be to ensure the opposite. Inexplicably, we are witnessing a scenario that looks like a déja vu and thus not very promising. That is why the case for treating Afghanistan differently urgently needs to be made repeatedly:
Corona has shifted priorities and strategies-Corona has ravaged economies. The biggest and the most innovative powers have been reduced to countries trying to have enough Christmas trees and turkeys for Christmas. The USA can no longer afford wars, no longer neglect areas like climate change and cannot overlook the next pandemic. Neither America nor the Taliban are the same. Taliban are a mix of new and old. They know their country support will fold up quickly if they are unable to feed people and procure aid. They know that the new generation of Afghans expect them to keep their word on an inclusive government and girls' education. Non-engagement and non-support will harm not just Afghans but will hurt the world focus. Corona exposed misplaced priorities on wars and conflicts by the West. They were too busy using the radar to drop bombs while off the top radar coronavirus entered every house as the biggest killer. Having a more settled Afghanistan will help the world save their people from the biggest security threat, i.e., the next pandemic and climate change.
Stability in Afghanistan is stability in the world- Afghanistan is one of the world's most aid-dependent countries. Donors have invested $65bn (£47bn) in grants since 2002. Aid accounts for about 40% of GDP and three-quarters of government spending. "Afghanistan is now among the world's worst humanitarian crises - if not the worst - and food security has all but collapsed," lamented David Beasley, WFP executive director. "This winter, millions of Afghans will be forced to choose between migration and starvation unless we can step up our life-saving assistance, and unless the economy can be resuscitated," Beasley said. A famished, unhealthy Afghanistan with no foreign support will have three choices- Flee, Force or Fight. Already, the refugee crisis has shut doors for those trying to escape starvation. The second choice will be take the law in their own hands and resort to crime and loot. The third is to join the terrorist organizations to become rebels against the West. All three would be bigger disasters for the world than ever.
Afghanistan opens up the whole region for trade markets-As economies crash, Europe and the rich countries face constricted resources and saturated markets, new markets are a must to survive. The US and EU have targeted India as a big market for their future as well as a strategic partner against China. This strategy restricts them to retain their economic superiority. Afghanistan is the heart of Asia. This heart has had heart attacks in the past. A bypass is overdue. That bypass is being made by China, Pakistan, Iran and Central Asian countries in the form of BRI, CPEC, etc. If the US misses this 'opportunity', they miss the boat. This would mean cutting off themselves from the next emerging market. This would be a classic mistake of politics killing economics. For the US and West, Afghanistan matters even more if they want to be the dominant economies of the world.
Engagement, connectivity, cooperation-The strategies of the past regarding Afghanistan of occupation, capacity building, selectivity failed. After 2 trillion dollar losses they conceded to have a dialogue with Taliban. Post-exit West has abandoned Afghanistan and are now forming counter blocs. That is counterproductive. Engage more with Afghanistan. Engage more with Pakistan. Engage more with China. Non-connectivity and non-cooperation saw the World drowning in the virus wave after wave. No amount of money, shutting off borders, vaccine monopolies has saved the world from deaths, disease and disasters.
Yes, the world needs to engage with Afghanistan because the harsh winter is approaching and 90% Afghan children, women, youth and older people will be facing hunger and diseases. But even more the world needs to understand the geo trade potential of the region. Every disaster leads to economic depression. Every depression forces the world to discover new regions for recovery. After the World War-II it was Europe that decided to stop wars with each other to develop a single market to emerge as the follower of the US in the world. In the 80s it was China that decided that it is going to focus on local and international markets rather than conflicts and it became a challenger to the West.
The coronavirus destruction has ravaged economies and countries. This is a defining moment for the world to unlearn its world view. To see the world as a win- lose has resulted in a lose-lose for everybody. The real challenge is to see Afghanistan not as a threat but as an opportunity. As a connector not as a divider. As a market and not as a political base. As a partner and not as an occupier. Central and South Asias are full of unique natural and human resources that can revive the world economies. If Pakistan is a gateway to them, Afghanistan is the corridor to this potential. Time for the World to review and treat Afghanistan as a path to revival and sustainability.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])
Copyright Business Recorder, 2021