Regional integration is the ‘key’ to stabilising Afghanistan

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Integrating Afghanistan into its neighbourhood should create a “win-win” situation for all the countries in the region and for the international community as a whole, writes Erlan Idrissov.

Erlan Idrissov is Kazakhstan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs

"The coming weeks and months provide an important opportunity to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.

Kazakhstan disagrees with the frequently expressed Cassandra view that chaos and violence inevitably await Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force in 2014. This sort of prognosis is dangerous. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy by making us all think that there is no hope for Afghanistan.

Instead, we are optimistic that with the right level of assistance from its friends and neighbours and through the creation of a peaceful environment in its immediate neighbourhood, Afghanistan can overcome its historical isolation and take its rightful place in the “Heart of Asia”.

We strongly support the development of transportation links to facilitate trade within the region. Afghanistan can benefit hugely from the creation of the “New Silk Road”, bringing together Eurasia and South Asia via new road, rail and energy corridors.

As the largest land-locked country in the world, Kazakhstan has a strong interest in having the best possible access to global markets, including to its south.

The stabilization of Afghanistan and its pursuit of harmonious relations with its neighbours are an important part of that process. So too is the normalization of Iran’s relations with the international community.

Integrating Afghanistan into its neighbourhood should create a “win win” situation for all the countries in the region and for the international community as a whole. We have to work steadily to establish the conditions for the Afghan people to find the political solutions that can unite the country and provide the leadership for long-term renewal.

There are no magic solutions to Afghanistan’s problems and we must accept the fact that only Afghans can decide the country’s way forward. The international community should limit its efforts to promoting the social and economic rehabilitation of Afghanistan and stay out of politics.

In Afghanistan, Kazakhstan is putting its efforts into developing agriculture, education and infrastructure, providing in all cases a combination of expertise and financial support.

Afghanistan’s population is 70-80% rural and we believe that encouraging Afghans back into productive employment on the land can have a major economic impact and improve the security situation. We are training Afghan agricultural specialists and have also provided large volumes of seed.

Despite some significant progress in recent years, Afghanistan still has a heavy legacy to overcome in education. As part of a $50 million program Kazakhstan is providing professional training for 1,000 Afghan students in its higher education institutions in areas ranging from engineering to medicine.

Development of infrastructure to promote trade within Afghanistan remains an urgent priority. Kazakhstan has recently financed the repair of a 77km road in the north of the country at a cost of $1.65 million.

Afghanistan remains the undisputed global leader in production and supply of illicit heroin and opium to the global market. The criminalization of Afghanistan’s economy is creating serious problems in many countries along the main export routes for these products, including in Kazakhstan.

The only reliable way to combat it is to develop an economy that supports other types of legal activity. At present, opium poppy production is the only social safety net for many farmers.

Solutions to many of Afghanistan’s problems are obvious. What is usually much less clear is how to create an environment that is conducive to applying them.

As Afghanistan’s government takes over responsibility for the country’s security, its relations with neighboring countries are already taking on increased prominence.

As neighbours, we must live up to our responsibilities and make the most of this opportunity."

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