There is no doubt that after more than two decades of war and militancy, Afghanistan today is a country precariously poised at the crossroads of history. As the Obama administration mulls its various options for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the role of western and regional powers like India in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation process comes sharply into focus. No country wants a repeat of 1989, when the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan precipitated a Pakistan backed militancy uprising in India’s northern State of Kashmir and the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is vital to stability and peace in South Asia and the world.
As a new but politically fragile Afghanistan explores the path to reconstruction and development, what are the strengths and problems at hand? How can the West and the regional powers help Afghanistan chart out a balanced roadmap to unified, secure, stable and prosperous future?
The recent transfer of leadership of security from the U.S. led NATO coalition of forces to the nascent Afghan armed forces opens up urgent and critical venues for continued support in intelligence, training, counter insurgency and logistics. With USA as a key partner, Afghanistan is also counting on partners like India in providing training for Afghan security and police forces.
Reconstructing Afghanistan remains a major challenge and it is only possible through enduring political will, international cooperation and major materials and manpower support. Meanwhile, 60 countries including many foreign aid organizations are working on projects providing basic services like education, electricity and healthcare including larger projects like building roads, dams, schools and hospitals. The country needs long term commitment and sustained focus on such projects to develop cadres of educated, Afghan professionals and officials who can then help chart its independent future.
For 250 years now, Afghanistan has withstood external forces as one nation despite deep ethnic divisions in the county. Today, these tribal factions are vying for a say in the political and military future of the country. How should the country accommodate the interests of all its distinct nationalities, including Pashtu, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Pashaei, Noorestani, Baluch, Aimak, Turkmen , Gujjar, Brahui, Pamiri etc. to work together to build one strong nation of Afghanistan? How should the country facilitate dialogue with various political and insurgent groups to negotiate peace for the future? There is an urgent need to ensure a fairly shared platform for all parts of the civil society, including women’s groups, returning refugees and former insurgents.
Afghanistan possesses abundant reserves of mineral ore; the U.S. Geological survey estimates it to be worth between $900 billion-$3 trillion of untapped mineral deposits. How can this national wealth be safely translated into building a prosperous future for all Afghan citizens and not frittered away to corruption? In Agriculture, despite having only 12% of arable land, 80% of Afghanistan’s population depends on farmland for its livelihood. The country needs agriculture revitalization strategies to wean away from decades of highly profitable, but illegal, opium cultivation to sustainable projects involving food crops, livestock, irrigation and energy generation.
The challenges facing Afghanistan today are many, but a secure, stable and prosperous future for the country is possible with inclusive political strategy, fair exploitation of its natural resources and strong and continuous support from the international community. These challenges also provide Afghanistan with unique opportunities that could play a vital role in ensuring stability and security not only for its citizens but for those of Asia and the world.