'Future of Afghanistan lies in economic integration'

'Future of Afghanistan lies in economic integration'

Uncertainty looms large over the future of Afghanistan, as the US-led international force is set to wind up its decade-long war on terror by 2014, leaving the task of fighting the resurgent Taliban largely to the Afghan national security force.

Shaida M Abdali, Afghanistan’s new envoy to India, in an interview with
Anirban Bhaumik of Deccan Herald, however, exudes confidence that international community would continue to not only help the war-wrecked country combat terrorism, but also turn itself into a regional trade hub through a decade of transformation beyond 2014. Excerpts:

 

How do you view Afghanistan-India relation and its prospects beyond 2014?

Relations between Afghanistan and India are ancient and exceptional, blessed with a civilizational bond. This time-tested strategic relationship with India has only strengthened over the past decade, and will continue to do so beyond 2014. India is one of the largest providers of critically needed assistance to Afghanistan. The two Governments last year signed a comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement, which is expected to help broaden our multifaceted relationship with India in the coming years. We attach great importance to our partnership with India and expect our strategic relationship with the country to further expand and deepen, in light of the shared interests and objectives enshrined in the agreement signed last year. These objectives include building institutions of democracy and institutionalize peace in Afghanistan, as well as ensuring regional stability. We also encourage all other regional players to reinforce this common objective. Afghanistan will require continued support to train and equip its forces. Some of our strategic allies, under bilateral security arrangements, will maintain the necessary presence, in terms of continuing to train and equip the Afghan forces, in Afghanistan, beyond 2014. And we have welcomed India’s enhanced security contributions to bolster this effort in Afghanistan.

A decade after the US-led international war on terror brought international forces to Afghanistan, how do you asses its outcome of the war against terrorism?

As you know, we have collectively striven to defeat terrorism as a threat to global peace and security. Al Qaeda and its global infrastructure have been severely degraded, while the Taliban fighters have lost every battle since their resurgence. They are increasingly pressured to choose between defeat and peace through negotiation with the Afghan Government, on the basis of certain conditions. We are reassured by the commitments of the international community in Bonn, Chicago and Tokyo conferences that Afghanistan will not be abandoned again. From the experience of the 1990s and the tragedies of 9/11 and 26/11, our allies and neighbours know that victory against terrorism and extremism is the only way forward in order to secure Afghanistan, thereby to ensure regional and international peace and stability.


There are considerable concerns in India as well as around the world about Afghanistan’s security and stability after the US-led ISAF’s withdrawal by 2014. How confident is the Afghanistan Government about maintaining peace and stability in the country after 2014?

Much of concern about security in Afghanistan is misplaced. This is largely due to daily sensational media reports, which often focus on terrorist attacks or other isolated incidents, completely disregarding many positive developments that take place in Afghanistan everyday. The transition of security responsibility to the Afghan forces is running smoothly, as our forces lead almost all operations against the enemy and will soon provide protection for 75 percent of the Afghan population. Their efforts are supported by a broad coalition of countries, which firmly remain committed to helping Afghanistan through a decade of transformation beyond 2014. We recently signed strategic partnership agreements with the US, Britain, Germany, Italy, France, India and others in order to ensure that Afghanistan does not face uncertainty after 2014. More such agreements are under consideration. We are also reaching out to all our neighbours, seeking their sincere cooperation and support to an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process to end the war in Afghanistan.


How do you view the prospects of greater regional cooperation, particularly between Afghanistan and its immediate neighbours, in combating the menace of terrorism?

There is international consensus on the fact that insecurity in Afghanistan is caused by a terror campaign that is maintained outside our borders. Until and unless the safe sanctuaries of terrorists are dismantled outside our country, they will continue to infiltrate into Afghanistan and terrorize our people. Last November, the 14 countries of the “Heart of Asia” met in Istanbul, and collectively identified terrorism and drug trafficking as two intertwined threats to regional peace. To address these threats, they called for sincere regional cooperation in the war against terrorism, including dismantling terrorists’ safe havens. We continue to communicate to our neighbors that stability in Afghanistan means peace and security in the whole region. We learnt in the 1990s that destabilizing Afghanistan benefits no country in the region. Cooperation is the only way forward to eliminate this menace, and we will continue to strive, in full partnership with the international community, to reach this shared objective.

Pakistan of late justified its military’s shelling in areas inside Afghanistan, displacing and killing civilians. In such a situation, how hopeful is Afghan Government of getting effective cooperation from its immediate neighbourhood to combat Taliban?

We remain very concerned about continued shelling by Pakistan of our villages across the Durand Line. The indiscriminate attacks have led to a number of civilian casualties. We have taken it up with the Pakistan Government and its military, seeking an immediate resolution and end to the shelling. There may be disputes on how and where to fight terrorism and its safe heavens, but no more confusion on figuring out who are the victims and who to the contrary. I think the world is also no longer busy trying to find the whereabouts of terrorists and their safe heavens, but figuring out effective ways how to fight and dismantle their activities across our border. Despite many failures, Afghanistan has always been on the initiating end to seek ways of cooperation with Pakistan and others in the region to uproot and eliminate extremism and terrorism. And we only hope that our neighbors, particularly Pakistan, do more to address the problem to ensure a safer region for all of us.

Has Afghan Government’s effort for reconciliation with Taliban made any significant headway?

Peace is the wish and desire of every Afghan and the Afghan Government is relentlessly trying to achieve it through the High Peace Council, which is represented by all sections of people of Afghanistan. To ensure that peace achieved through reconciliation with the opposition is sustainable, we have striven to lead and own the peace process. Such a process requires the impartial support and cooperation of the international community and, in particular, of our neighbors, near and far alike. Our High Peace Council, under the leadership of Salahuddin Rabani, continues to engage with armed opposition groups, and has communicated to all of them the key conditions of reconciliation. The conditions include cutting ties with Al Qaeda, renouncing violence, and respecting the values and principles of the Afghan Constitution, including upholding human rights and equal rights of women. There may be little to show as a substantive outcome of our efforts so far, but it is not a hopeless situation. We continue to hope that there will be a breakthrough eventually. We highly value the mediating or facilitating roles of other regional players, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The King of Saudi Arabia has been very instrumental so far, and we hope that with his blessing, the effort for a durable peace in Afghanistan will get further momentum.


How do you see the prospects of Afghanistan emerging as a trade link between South Asia and Central Asia and a regional hub of economic activities?

 

The future of Afghanistan and the region lies in economic integration. The key to realizing this is the idea of the New Silk Road that aspires to bring the countries of the region and beyond together for commercial and cultural exchanges. So, we encourage the countries of the Heart of Asia and those beyond to work together to realize the vision behind the New Silk Road, which, indeed, is an ambitious and yet necessary project of the 21st century to create peace and prosperity for all. One project currently underway is the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India or the TAPI pipeline, which helps realize the vision of the New Silk Road. TAPI should serve as a win-win platform for regional cooperation. Afghanistan looks forward to playing its natural role as a land-bridge connecting through trade and commerce the economies of the South West and Central Asia, as well as beyond. Of course, that happens when our neighbors take a longer-term view of their future, instead of a zero-sum approach that only harms the welfare of millions of people in need.

Could you please give us an update on major Indian projects that are still pending, like the new Parliament building or the Salma Dam?

The construction of the Parliament building in Kabul and Salma Dam is among India’s signature aid programs, which we greatly appreciate. The work on the Parliament building is to be completed soon, while the work on the Salma Dam has faltered from time to time, due to insecurity around the construction site or related contracting problems. As you know, there are also some budgetary issues that the Indian Parliament and Government have been debating to resolve. On our part, we are reviewing the kinds of obstacles hindering the completion of this vital project, and continue working with the government of India to address them so that the project is completed as soon as possible.

How do you view Afghanistan-India economic cooperation in the days to come?

We welcome India’s significant contributions to Afghanistan’s economy. Indian investment in our natural resources sector will go a long way in helping us achieve economic self-reliance. This is consistent with our National Priority Programs based on a strategy paper, “Towards Self-Reliance”, which we recently presented to the international community at the Tokyo Conference. We too appreciate the hard effort India puts into creating win-win economic opportunities at the regional level. We are very grateful to India for hosting the recent Delhi Investors Summit on Afghanistan, which rightly focused on exploring business and investment opportunities in our country. This effort helps build confidence and understanding among nations, particularly in our region, for working together for peace and prosperity for all.


 

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