First the centre of the silk route, then the epicenter of bloody conflicts, Afghanistan's history can be charted through many diverse chapters, the most recent of which opened with the election of President Ashraf Ghani in September 2014.
Having inherited a country pockmarked with the scars of over a decade
of occupation by U.S. troops – including one million unemployed youth
and a flourishing opium trade – the former finance minister has entered
the ring at a low point for his country.
Afghanistan ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), tailed only by North Korea, Somalia and Sudan.
A full 36 percent of its population of 30.5 million people lives in
poverty, while spillover pressures from war-torn neighbours like
Pakistan threaten to plunge this land-locked nation back into the throes
of religious extremism.
But under this sheen of distress, the seeds of Afghanistan's future
are slumbering: vast metal and mineral deposits, ample water resources
and huge tracts of farmland have investors casting keen eyes from all
Citing an internal Pentagon memo in 2010, the New York Times referred
to Afghanistan as the "Saudi Arabia of Lithium", an essential
ingredient in the production of batteries and related goods.
The country is poised to become the world's largest producer of
copper and iron in the next decade. According to some estimates, untapped mineral reserves could amount to about a trillion dollars.
Perhaps more importantly Afghanistan's landmass represents prime
geopolitical real estate, acting as the gateway between Asia and Europe.
As the government begins the slow process of re-building a nation from
the scraps of war, it is looking first and foremost to its immediate
neighbours, for the hand of friendship and mutual economic benefit.
Speaking of his development plans at the New York-based Council on
Foreign Relations (CFR) Thursday, Ghani emphasised the role that the
Caucasus, as well as Pakistan and China, can play in the country's
"In the next 25 years, Asia is going to become the world's largest
continental economy," Ghani stressed. "What happened in the U.S. in 1869
when the continental railroad was integrated is very likely to happen
in Asia in the next 25 years. Without Afghanistan, Central Asia, South
Asia, East Asia and West Asia will not be connected.
"Our goal is to become a transit country, for transport, power transmissions, gas pipelines and fiber optics."
Ghani added that the bulk of what Afghanistan hopes to produce in the
coming decade would be heavy stuff, requiring a robust rail network in
order to create economies of scale.
"In three years, we hope to be reaching Europe within five days. So
the Caspian is really becoming central to our economy […] In three
years, we could have 70 percent of our imports and exports via the
Caspian," he claimed.
Roads, too, will be vital to the country's revival, and here the
Asian Development Bank (ADB) has already begun laying the groundwork.
Just last month the financial institution and the Afghan government signed grant agreements
worth 130 million dollars, "[To] finance a new road link that will open
up an east-west trade corridor with Tajikistan and beyond."
Thomas Panella, ADB's country director for Afghanistan, told IPS,
"ADB-funded projects in transport and energy infrastructure promote
regional economic cooperation through increased connectivity. To date
under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) programme,
2.6 billion dollars have been invested in transport, trade, and energy
projects, of which 15 are ongoing and 10 have been completed. In the transport sector six projects are ongoing and
eight projects have been completed, including the 75-km railway project
connecting Hairatan bordering Uzbekistan and Mazar-e-Sharif of
Afghanistan's transport sector accounted for 22 percent of the
nation's gross domestic product (GDP) during the U.S. occupation, a
contribution driven primarily by the presence of foreign troops.
Now the sector has slumped, but financial assistance from the likes
of the ADB is likely to set it back on track. At last count, on Dec. 31,
2013, the development bank had sunk
1.9 billion dollars into efforts to construct or upgrade some 1,500 km
of regional and national roads, and a further 31 million to revamp four
regional airports in Afghanistan, which have since seen a two-fold
increase in usage.
In total, the ADB has approved 3.9 billion dollars in loans, grants,
and technical assistance for Afghanistan since 2002. Panella also said
the bank allocated 335.18 million dollars in Asian Development Fund
(ADF) resources to Afghanistan for 2014, and 167.59 million dollars
annually for 2015 and 2016.
China too has stepped up to the plate – having already acquired a
stake in one of the country's most critical copper mines and invested in
the oil sector – promising 330 million dollars in aid and grants, which
Ghani said he intends to use exclusively to beef up infrastructure and
Both India and China, the former through private companies and the
latter through state-owned corporations, have made "significant"
contributions to the fledgling economy, Ghani said, adding that the Gulf
states and Azerbaijan also form part of the 'consortium approach' that
he has adopted as Afghanistan's roadmap out of the doldrums.
"A Very Neoliberal Idea"
But in an environment that until very recently could only be
described as a war economy, with a poor track record of sharing wealth
equally – be it aid, or private contracts – the road through the forest
of extractive initiatives and mega-infrastructure projects promises to
be a bumpy one.
According to Anand Gopal, an expert on Afghan politics and award-winning author of 'No Good Men Among the Living',
"There is a widespread notion that only a very powerful fraction of the
local elite and international community benefitted from the [flow] of
foreign aid. If you go to look at schools," he told IPS, "or into clinics that
were funded by the international community, you can see these
institutions are in a state of disrepair, you can see that local
warlords have taken a cut, have even been empowered by this aid, which
helped them build a base of support."
Although the aid flow has now dried up, the system that allowed it to
be siphoned off to line the pockets of strongmen and political elites
will not be easily dismantled.
"The mindset here is not oriented towards communities, it's oriented
towards development of private industries and private contractors,"
"When you have a state that is unable to raise its own revenue and is
utterly reliant on foreign aid to make these projects viable […] the
straightforward thing to do would be to nationalise natural resources
and use them as a base of revenue to develop the economy, the expertise
of local communities and the endogenous ability of the Afghan state to
Instead what happens is that this tremendous potential falls off into
hands of contracts to the Chinese and others. "It's a very neoliberal
idea," he added, "to privatise everything and hope that the benefits
will trickle down.
"But as we've seen all over the world, it doesn't trickle down. In
fact, the people who are supposed to be helped aren't the ones to get
help and a lot of other people get enriched in the process."
Indeed, attempts to stimulate growth and close the wealth gap by
pouring money into the extractives sector or large-scale development –
particularly in formerly conflict-ridden countries – has had disastrous
consequences worldwide, from Papua New Guinea, to Colombia, to Chad.
Rather than reducing poverty and empowering local communities, mining
and infrastructure projects have impoverished indigenous people, fueled
gender-based violence, and paved the way for the concentration of
wealth in fewer and fewer hands.
A far more meaningful approach, Gopal suggested, would be to directly
fund local communities in ways that don't immediately give rise to an
army of middlemen.
It remains to be seen how the country's plans to shake off the cloak
of foreign occupation and decades of instability will unfold. But it is
clear that Afghanistan is fast becoming the new playground – and
possibly the next battleground – of emerging players in the global
by Kanya D'Almeida from here
More evidence, if it's needed, for the necessity of the socialist position of ridding the world of the exploitative system that is capitalism in favour of organising for the benefit of the vast majority and using global resources for need not profit. Leaders of all colours and stripes of the world, in thrall to the principles of capitalism would rather enrich the few at whatever cost to the rest of us wherever we live. The only way to change the balance of power is to disenfranchise the capitalist class by placing all wealth into common ownership in a global socialist system.