Over the past 16 years, Afghanistan has been a victim of state-sponsorship of terrorism. As a proxy of a regional state, the Taliban have daily killed and maimed innocent Afghans, while destroying the infrastructure that should help connect and integrate Afghanistan with its surrounding resourceful regions in the North and South for increased trade, business, and investment.
State-sponsored terrorism has allowed some 20 other terrorist networks with global and regional reach to operate out of Afghanistan. At the same time, this imposed insecurity has enabled a permissive environment for mass drug cultivation and production in Afghanistan, which now provides more than 90% of regional and global demand for drugs. In turn, revenues from drug trade finance terrorism and fuel dysfunctional corruption that undermines governance and rule of law, which together destabilize drug producing and transit countries alike.
Because of the interconnectedness of these imposed security challenges, Afghanistan is facing a complex humanitarian crisis with diminishing human security. Hence, this makes the country a major source of refugees and asylum seekers, who are often ferried by human smugglers to Europe, Australia and elsewhere. As we see, what is imposed on and happens in Afghanistan directly affect regional stability and international peace.
This dangerous situation necessitates that states in Afghanistan’s wider region no longer pause but join hands, pool their resources, and share intelligence to pursue and implement a common counter-terrorism strategy, which doesn’t make any distinction between terrorist networks. Alongside this effort, they must work together to free their nations off poverty, knowing that a lack of human security allows terrorists, extremists, and state-sponsors of terrorism to recruit among the jobless, destitute youth to radicalize, brainwash, and exploit them in conflicts of their choice.
Indeed, the best way to fight poverty that feeds terrorism is to foster political and security confidence-building through regional economic cooperation. The latter can serve as an important enabler in deepening connectivity, enhancing competitiveness and productivity, lowering transaction costs, and expanding markets in any region. How can this be done? In fact, Afghanistan has already put forth a strategic solution for adoption and implementation by its near and far neighbors: The Heart of Asia–Istanbul Process (HOA-IP) and The Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA).
These Afghanistan-led processes were established to help secure regional cooperation for the country’s stabilization and sustainable development, thereby ensuring stability and prosperity throughout its surrounding regions. Even though they remain underutilized so far, it is in the best short- and long-term interests of the countries that participate in the two processes to double and triple their efforts to achieve the shared goals of the two platforms. Of course, every tangible step they take to utilize these interconnected processes will help minimize these and other nations’ security and socio-economic vulnerabilities against the terrorist-extremist predators and their state-sponsors. That is why time is of essence and they must reaffirm their often-pledged commitments to the implementation of the projects and programs, proposed under the two processes.
On 14-15 of this month, the 7th Meeting of RECCA will take place in Ashgabat-Turkmenistan. The meeting focuses on “Deepening Connectivity and Expanding Trade through Investment Infrastructure and Improving Synergy.” This will be a timely opportunity for Afghanistan’s near and far neighbors to take stock of the progress made since RECCA VI in Kabul. The meeting with many side events will allow the country-participants to discuss the challenges and bottlenecks, as well as financing and investment needs with respect to the priority projects in the key areas of energy; transport networks; trade and transit facilitation; communications; and business to business and labor support.
Moreover, in early December, the 7th Ministerial Conference of HOA-IP with its political, security, and economic confidence building measures (CBMs) implementation mechanism will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Afghanistan aims at deepening synergies and complementarities among the interconnected projects of the RECCA and HOA-IP, maximizing their impact on sustainable development not only in Afghanistan but also throughout its surrounding regions. This should encourage the country-participants to assess their shared security and development needs and to bolster their engagement with Afghanistan accordingly, in order to initiate the implementation of the proposed projects with win-win benefits.
Considering these major opportunities for regional security and development cooperation, Afghanistan welcomes the new South Asia strategy of the United States, which helps address the challenge of state sponsorship of terrorism facing Afghanistan.
This entails the complete closure of all safe sanctuaries in Pakistan where the Taliban get indoctrinated, trained, equipped, and deployed from to terrorize Afghanistan and destabilize the rest of the Heart of Asia region. The Afghan government strongly believes that the full execution of this new US strategy, in partnership with like-minded regional states that share Afghanistan’s security and development interests, will not only help stabilize the country but also ensure security as a precondition for sustainable development across its surrounding regions.
*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 tweets @MAshrafHaidari.