The future of Afghanistan lies between its huge economic potential and two nuclear-armed governments who are remaining well within reach and playing a part in the country’s development
The presence of potential lucrative trade routes and a need for geo-political supremacy in a volatile region are a few reasons why Afghanistan continues to be a point of interest for many nations.
During a speech in 2001, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the ex-commander-in-chief of the Pakistani army highlighted its importance when he said, “Strategically, we cannot have an Afghan army on our western border which has an Indian mindset and capabilities to take on Pakistan.”
Political and financial stability are the logical routes to take for Afghanistan to develop as an independent and self-sufficient nation after NATO forces withdraw. Widespread regeneration and rebuilding is required, including roads, financial districts, airports, highways, hospitals, schools, media and communication systems. Industry and trade relations have to be forged and fortified.
Along with the reconstruction of the country’s essential infrastructure, natural resources will be the defining factors for Afghanistan’s future. International and regional suitors are trying their utmost to gain favour with existing Afghan warlords and ex-warlord politicians, whose trade of ‘poppy flower nectar’, contrary to widespread belief, is exceeding demand.
In 2009, according to hyperspectral surface materials mapping carried out by the US Geological Survey, the extractive industries may be the most promising long-term source of future Afghan revenue, if the appropriate technical and governance capacities are developed. There are said to be $3 trillion worth of natural resources to be exploited in Afghanistan – including lithium, copper, iron ore and gold, among others. From 2004-2010, the United States invested nearly $30 million in Afghanistan’s mining sector.
A possible financial boom in Afghanistan is likely to cause conflict between neighbouring Pakistan and India, who have both played a significant part in Afghanistan’s history post-1947.
Pakistan, has had a part in the shaping (or mis-shaping) of Aghanistan, since inheriting the Durand Line. The Durand Line was formed in 1893 and updated in 1919 as a line of control between the British Raj and the Afghan leadership, and was subsequently inherited by Pakistan post-1947 as a border between the two nations. Due to the lack of a formal agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan, the legitimacy of the Durand Line has been a contentious subject since its formation. The current Afghan leadership has continued to resist the Durand Line, with Hamid Karzai calling it a “line of hatred that raised a wall between the two brothers.”
Among the average Afghan, there is deep-rooted and growing acrimony against Pakistan, which is only likely to fester while Afghanistan is the subject of a proxy-conflict for supremacy among two nuclear-armed nations: Pakistan and India.
Today, Pakistan hosts millions of Afghan refugees and immigrants who make up a significant part of the Pakistani economy and form an essential part of Pakistani culture, with loyalties on both sides of the border.
India, in the ‘post-Taliban’ era, may have an increasingly significant role in the future development of the country through industrial and financial investment. India observed positive relations with the Afghan leadership until 1979, when the sudden change of leadership halted that relationship, while Pakistan continued to have authority over Afghan national affairs via proxy for the USA. Pakistani security forces provided training to the Mujahedeen under the watchful eye of the CIA.
With high stakes for both Pakistan and India, eyes will be, and have been on, neighbouring internal affairs and stability. In incidents such as the Mumbai terror attacks and the Sri Lankan cricket team attacks in Lahore, both factions have claimed foul play on the account of attempts to destabilise the other. This covert war has also spilled into Afghanistan and will have a heavy price to pay if it decides to side with either.
India has been investing heavily in Afghanistan in order to bolster its relationship with its neighbour in recent times. In 2009, the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) announced plans to invest $6 billion dollars to construct the infrastructure for Steel Ore mining in the Hajigak mines in the central region of Afghanistan. India also pledged $2 billion to the Afghan government to assist with essential national infrastructure regeneration, including a new parliament building and various highways.
Pakistan may not have the financial clout of India, but it has also been investing, significantly, in Afghanistan – $500m in 2008 – and it continues to devote heavy military and intelligence resources to hold onto its waning influence on Afghan internal affairs. Both Pakistan and India are acutely aware of the potential financial gains, which can lead to geo-political supremacy.
Along with ample natural resources, Afghanistan’s capital city Kabul has one of the largest regeneration projects in its history in the making, called ‘Kabul New City’. Currently, Kabul spans over 164 sq. miles with an ever-growing population of approximately 4 million people. It faces problems such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, air pollution, damaged roads, corruption, high prices, risk of suicide bombings and violence. Kabul New City is hoping to solve many of these problems. It is worth an estimated $34 billion and is to be constructed in three phases within 15 years, of which the first phase is due for completion in 2015. International developers have been lining up to invest in this and many other projects within Afghanistan. The stakes are high with the multi-billion dollar business and regional stability on the line.
The NATO invasion of Afghanistan up until now has cost 100,000+ civilian fatalities (an amalgamation of estimates by various human rights organisations) and there seems to be no end to casualties in sight. This figure discounts the innumerable number of ‘Taliban’ fatalities. No official figures on civilian fatalities by American, British or other members of NATO have been released.
Afghanistan has many secrets buried under its well-trodden lands, be it lost jewels worth millions, or natural minerals, worth trillions. The current establishment professed to having discovered 20,000 gold coins and numerous artefacts, worth millions, in a vault under the presidential palace of Kabul. The treasure is dated from Alexander the Great’s conquest of Afghanistan in 327BC.
Afghanistan needs stability and development – and fast. It has been through a tough period in history, be it a lengthy one, but there may still be bright prospects ahead. The future hangs on the power struggles amongst its neighbours.
Reclaim Your Stage:
The Platform is a groundbreaking blog that provides current affairs and cultural commentary. Our pieces offer challenging opinions from a range of spectrums; that’s why we love hosting a platform for them.