Do Afghans abroad ever think about their debt of service to Afghanistan and doing something about it? They may rarely do so. But let us begin with the basic fact that the land Afghans call home is diversely populated, geographically landlocked, politically and economically least developed, and unfortunately located in a predatory neighborhood where at least one of their neighbors sees her raison d’être partly dependent on instability in Afghanistan.
Meantime, other state and non-state actors—such as extremists, terrorists, and drug-traffickers—have exploited Afghanistan’s vulnerabilities to their advantage, and they will continue to do so alone or together in common self-interest. If Afghan immigrants are keenly aware of who stands to gain the most from their weak state institutions, from polarization of their ethnic diversity, from their abject poverty and dependency on foreign aid. If they talk about these vulnerabilities in almost every public forum, in every conference, in every family or friends gathering, then one wonders why they choose the path of self-destructive inaction over the path of united action to help secure the future of their nation.
With five thousand years of rich history and culture, why can Afghans not identify their individual selves with the collective interests of their nation—the Afghan nation? Why are they not learning from the decades of exploitation in the hands of outsiders? Why are they falling far behind every newly independent or created nation-state across the world and still allowing their foes to fan ethnic nationalism in Afghanistan, even when they know that it is only through one voice—the Afghan nationalism—that can they survive, thrive, and defend their nation and country?
The answer: they must add up their diverse voices—of the Sikhs and Hindus, of the Sunnis and Shias, of the Aimaqs and Turkmans, of the Uzbeks and Hazaras, and of the Tajiks and Pashtuns—to form one formidable unified Afghan voice, one unbreakable Afghan front so that their nation is no longer perceived as “dividable” or “expendable” to serve the interests of any foreign ideologies or policies. They must deny anyone the opportunity to divide and rule them. They must embrace a religion of peace, tolerance and coexistence, and a culture of diversity, pluralism, hospitality, and freedom that truly define the Afghan character and national identity.
If they internalize and practice these national ethos, Afghans can be sure of their greatest service to their homeland and to their future generations to come and inhabit a land of unity, a land of peace, and a land of prosperity free from foreign influences and the miseries befalling Afghans today.
For the Afghan diaspora in developed countries, including the West, they should avoid getting bogged down with the day-to-day problems in Afghanistan but think about how they can help address the greater challenges facing their homeland. They should avoid the empty question one keeps hearing from some Afghans abroad who out of frustration of homelessness ask, “What has Afghanistan done for me to deserve my service?”
What has any country done for her citizens to deserve their service? It is the citizens that make the republic; not vice versa. Similarly, Afghan immigrants should help build their republic first before demanding rewards. It was the Japanese, who turned a resourceless island into the world’s economic powerhouse. Theirs was a much more devastated country in the wake of the World War II. But they recovered from the destructions wrought by America’s nuclear bombs and rebuilt their homeland.
So, wealthy Afghan abroad should never ask what Afghanistan can do for them but ask what they can do for Afghanistan. They can do for Afghanistan what the Japanese and other post-conflict nations did for their homelands. Afghans should begin in developed, peaceful countries where they have the resources, the capacity, the know-how, and the wealth to walk their talk about the challenges of securing and developing Afghanistan. They should do their share and avoid going down in the history books as a diaspora that never made a serious effort to save their homeland but allowed it to be a pawn in the game of others.
There are four practical ways on how resourceful Afghans abroad can play a vital role in the overall stabilization and development of Afghanistan by: 1) Building capacity in Afghanistan; 2) Investing in Afghanistan; 3) Strengthening Afghanistan’s civil society; and 4) Advocacy and lobbying for Afghanistan.
I. Building capacity in Afghanistan
The first step to Afghanistan’s recovery is to replace her “brain drain” with “brain gain.” Lack of human capital is the greatest challenge in stabilizing and developing Afghanistan. The United Nations Development Program ranked Afghanistan 169 out of 188 nations on the 2016 Human Development Index, meaning the country has the worst social and economic indicators in a competitive world where if a country cannot catch up with the pace of globalization, she will be “globalized,” a new term for “neo-colonization.”
In effect, Afghanistan’s competitive human capacity lies in developed countries, including the West. Unfortunately, the donor community has so far failed to tap this indigenous resource outside Afghanistan, despite many calls by the government of Afghanistan to expand the return of qualified Afghans programs. While donor-driven programs may or may not materialize to replace expensive foreign consultants with Afghan expatriates, Afghans should seek independent ways to get involved.
One effective way is through membership in the Afghan civil society organizations and strengthening them to serve as organized mechanisms to utilize the voluntary services of their members towards Afghanistan’s stabilization and sustainable development. Afghans abroad should be able to achieve this objective by reaching out to the various public and private institutions of their professional choice at home and assess their capacity building needs. Then based on these institutions’ specific requirements, they should arrange placement programs, whereby the resources of Afghan expatriates can be brought to bear on developing Afghanistan. If they volunteer one or two years of their career to help build institutional capacity at home, Afghans abroad will have gone a long way paying their debt of service to Afghanistan.
II. Investing in Afghanistan
Afghans abroad annually send millions of dollars in remittances to their families and relatives in Afghanistan, as well as in Pakistan and Iran. While continuing the humanitarian role, wealthy Afghans abroad should take advantage of the very generous investment environment in Afghanistan. By being the first movers, they will not only reap substantial profits but also pave the way for foreign direct investment. Unless they with local ties move in first to help develop their private sector and build confidence in others to invest in Afghanistan, foreign investors would be unlikely to do so.
Afghanistan is a virgin market, and the Afghan government has declared the private sector to be the driver of economic growth and sustainable development in Afghanistan. The Afghan government has continued to help develop the private sector to create sustainable jobs and drive growth. In the last Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani discussed the 11 top constraints facing the private sector in Afghanistan. So far, better business licensing has been advanced; punitive tax penalties abolished; and public-private partnerships legislation developed. And much more is being done to provide the right environment for attracting and retaining domestic and foreign investment in Afghanistan’s virgin markets.
III. Strengthening Afghanistan’s civil society
Civil society means all civic organizations, associations and networks, which occupy the “social space” between the family and the state except firms and political parties; and who come together to advance their common interests through collective action.
There has emerged a vibrant civil society in Afghanistan and in the Afghan diaspora communities spearheaded by women, intellectuals, and ordinary Afghans opposed to conflict, violence, and factionalism that have ripped apart Afghanistan for many years.
The Afghan diaspora can and should play a significant role in strengthening and enabling Afghanistan’s civil society at home and abroad to be an effective interest group against socio-economic and political ills in Afghanistan.
Meantime, they should organize their efforts through civil society organizations and use them as conduits to channel their resources towards stabilization and development of Afghanistan. As indicated above, Afghanistan’s public and private institutions acutely need capacity, which Afghans abroad can help strengthen via training, mentoring, consulting and advising programs to be initiated by professional associations—such as Society of Afghan Engineers, Society of Afghan Physicians, Society of Afghan Lawyers, Society of Afghan Professionals, and others.
These organizations can be most effective when they enjoy broad active membership and when they collaboratively work with one another to serve their common goal of helping develop Afghanistan.
In addition, membership in the Afghan community associations or participation in their events—such as those organized in Europe and North America—is another effective way to serve Afghanistan. Afghan immigrants should generously support these associations so they can continue their regular programs that further many Afghan causes. Literary, poetry, Sufi, and cultural gatherings keep their collective memory of Afghanistan alive, introduce their culture and traditions to others, and instill a sense of Afghanyat, and identity in their young generation.
IV. Advocacy and lobbying for Afghanistan
Advocacy is the process of actively speaking out, writing in favor of supporting, and/or acting on behalf of oneself, another person, or a cause. Afghan immigrants’ greatest cause is the stabilization and development of their country after her complete destruction during and in the aftermath of the Cold War. Five years before 9/11, Afghanistan had been suffering from the consequences of two interconnected tragedies, the tragedy of occupation by the former Soviet Union and then the tragedy of its aftermath. Afghanistan first became a victim of the most destructive ideological war of the 20th century—a victim of the Cold War between the Soviets and the West—and then a victim of the end of the Cold War because the country no longer mattered to major powers as Afghanistan suddenly lost her strategic importance.
The negligence by the international community of rebuilding Afghanistan allowed the country to become the battlefield of regional extremist proxies in 1990s. To serve her national interest of securing strategic depth in Afghanistan, Pakistan created and maintained the Taliban movement that together with Al Qaeda terrorists further destroyed Afghanistan and victimized Afghans. At the dawn of the 21st century, Afghanistan was a forgotten country with the Taliban’s gender apartheid only a concern of few women rights groups.
However, international inaction towards human suffering in Afghanistan ceased on September 11, 2001. The world suddenly discovered Afghanistan, which became the main focus of the global fight against terrorism. That leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban had been a huge mistake by the international community was now accepted wisdom, and it became clear that if the international community had stayed on to help rebuild Afghanistan at the end of the occupation by the Soviet Union, in 1989, the country would not have become Al-Qaeda’s base for global terror attacks.
As the tragic events of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks have so far demonstrated, international security is inextricably linked to peace and stability in Afghanistan. Hence, Afghan immigrants with citizenship in developed countries should lobby their governments for continued security and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan.
Advocating for sustainable resources to build peace in Afghanistan will serve the national security of both the countries of citizenship and that of the homeland.
The Afghan diaspora will soon enter their third generation outside Afghanistan and number over five million. They should begin organizing and learn from the lessons of other immigrant communities in the West (e.g. Armenians, Indians, Pakistanis, Israelis and others) to utilize their resources—notably their voting power and wealth—to bring the challenges facing Afghanistan to the forefront of national and international agendas.
Serving Afghanistan requires a great deal of self-initiative and collaboration on the part of all Afghans abroad to organize their efforts and pool their scarce resources across the world in support of lifting up their nation at a very critical juncture in the Afghan history. So, they should unite to give back what they can when their homeland needs them the most. They must be Afghanistan’s native and citizen in need and in deed. They should work from a philosophy of “qatra, qatra, darya mesha (drop, drop, makes a river)” to turn their homeland into a model state in the region and the world over. Together Afghans have proudly done the impossible in the past, and now they can certainly accomplish what is possible: to secure and develop their beautiful home, Afghanistan.
*M. Ashraf Haidari is the Director-General of Policy & Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and formerly served as the country’s Deputy Chief of Mission to India. Prior to this, he was Afghanistan’s Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor, as well as Afghan Chargé d’Affaires to the United States. He is also a Visiting Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and a Research Fellow at the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS). He tweets @MAshrafHaidari.