File photo: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani. Photograph:( Reuters )
The countries in the South Asian region must understand that their fate is intertwined with Afghanistan’s.
On February 20, WION Global Summit - Unleashing the Power of South Asia, was held in Dubai, UAE. WION is a Global English News Channel, which was launched by Indian News Media Company Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL), bringing world news with a South Asian view dedicated to an audience with values and beliefs that are as global, social, visual, and tech-savvy by nature.
I was honoured to be part of a panel discussion - “Future of South Asia: Strategic Balances & Alliances”, alongside distinguished members Shaurya Doval, Director of India Foundation, Namal Rajapaksa, Member of Parliament from Sri Lanka, Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director and Senior Associate for South Asia at the US-based Woodrow Wilson Center, and Hasanul Haq Inu, Bangladesh's former Minister of Information. The panel was moderated by international journalist, TV show host, and author, Riz Khan.
The diversity of voices on the panel was reflective of the rich diversity South Asia is known for. Sadly, due to a history of political tensions in the region, we have never seen the realisation of the true potential of this diversity in bringing stability and prosperity to South Asia. The protracted conflict of nearly 40 years in Afghanistan is one of the major deterrents to the region’s development. I believe that 2019 has thus far been and will continue to be a pivotal year for Afghanistan but also the region, as a whole, from a standpoint of security, economic, and political issues.
The level of true regional cooperation, as well as the support of the international community on the most pressing issues facing South Asia, will determine the fate of the region. Representing the Afghan perspective on the panel at the WION Global Summit, I will, here, highlight the three main issues I spoke about.
First, free and fair elections have been considered a cornerstone of development and progress in Afghanistan. When held properly, the psychosocial impacts of elections are incredibly positive for citizens who see them as a sign that their nation is moving forward, that the transition of power is accountable, and that they can exercise their constitutional right of choosing their leaders.
The most recent elections were held for the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House of Parliament) on October 20, 2018, the final results of which are yet to be announced due to a host of issues ranging from security to allegations of widespread electoral fraud. Commissioners of the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission were removed by President Ashraf Ghani following the accusation that they were engaged in electoral fraud. He just appointed 12 new commissioners in a consultative process that involved several political leaders, including candidates for the upcoming Presidential elections.
Security challenges continue to hinder the democratic process in Afghanistan. Several candidates were assassinated and some were even injured in the voting process, yet it did not stop Afghans from casting their vote.
Lack of transparency, mismanagement of the process, fraud and bribery are a norm and have been woven into our social fabric. Criminal activities such as fraud and bribery are often also interlinked with the insurgency in Afghanistan. If these activities continue to be a norm, they will have a spillover effect into the region. During the panel discussion, I argued that South Asian nations must do their part in holding Afghanistan accountable for transparency because bad practice spreads very fast and the negative implications can easily transfer to the region.
Second, I focused on an issue that has taken the international community and the media by a storm, the peace process in Afghanistan. However, when the two negotiating sides are the United States and the Taliban, Afghans are left to wonder how they will benefit from the peace process but more importantly what it means for Afghans.
It is not viable to have peace negotiations without the consensus of the Afghan people and the inclusion of the Afghan government. If Taliban wants to negotiate a peace deal, they must speak with those who are vigilant and concerned about their reintegration into society - the shop keepers, businessmen, athletes, journalists, artists, musicians, government officials and the Afghan women.
My recommendation to the international community is to keep in mind that this must be an ‘Afghan-owned’ peace process which must embrace all Afghans and – only Afghans. This will not just benefit Afghanistan, but will also have a positive impact on the region and global community.
Lastly, I spoke about the economic stability of Afghanistan. Due to the political, security, and economic transitions in 2014, Afghanistan’s economy took a major hit and unemployment increased to an alarming rate of around 40 per cent. Since then, intensive government reforms, as well as private sector growth, have led to an improved business climate. However, there are major hindrances to economic growth in the country, such as political uncertainty, corruption and security challenges.
Afghanistan has been actively engaged in regional economic cooperation so as to improve its economy but also assist in bringing stability to the region. However, the marked positive economic impact of these projects, such as Chahbahar Port, Lapis Lazuli Corridor and the Air Corridor programme, will not come immediately. In order for Afghanistan to become a donor-free economy, it will need the support of South Asian countries, particularly in terms of investment in the private sector as well as more active engagement in trade. Bringing economic stability to Afghanistan in indubitably one of the most effective methods for countering the insurgency, particularly in impoverished communities that turn to negative coping mechanisms such as joining insurgent movements to support their families.
They say a rising tide lifts all boats and this could ring more true for South Asia. The countries in the region must understand that their fate is intertwined with Afghanistan’s. A strategic alliance and cooperation between Afghanistan and South Asian countries in areas of mutual interest, be it economic, security, education, or sociocultural, will help the region realise its truest potentials.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)