Press Release – One day International Conference (Working Session 2) “Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”

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Press Release
One day CAMEA (ISSI) -FES International Conference
Working Session 2
“Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”
28 March, 2022

The Centre for Afghanistan, Middle East and Africa (CAMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) held an International Conference titled, “Perspectives on the Evolving Situation in Afghanistan”, in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung on March 28, 2022. The speakers in the inaugural session included, Ms. Amina Khan, Director CAMEA, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General ISSI, Dr. Niels Hegeswisch, Country Director FES, Pakistan, Honourable Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Honourable Shah Farman, Governor KPK and General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, Former Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

The second working session was titled the Evolving Economic Situation in Afghanistan and was moderated by Hamayoun Khan, Program Coordinator FES.  The distinguished speakers in the session were: Mr Tamim Asey, Founder & Executive Chairman of the Institute of War and Peace Studies (IWPS), Kabul; Dr. Kazem Sajjadpour, Former President, DG IPIS; General. Levent Gozkaya, Former Turkish Commander of Kabul Regional Command and Dr. Haiyun Ma, Assistant Professor at Frostburg State University.

In his keynote address, Ambassador Mansoor Ahmed Khan stated that we see certain changes in Afghanistan since August 2021. He explained that we have to see how the Afghan economy was running since the last few years, which was already under immense pressure. Almost two hundred people were dying every day unfortunately and a large part of the Afghan territory was not accessible to businessmen. The Afghan economy was fragile and Covid also had an impact and the restrictions due to the pandemic in neighbouring countries also affected Afghanistan resultantly. The drought in Afghanistan has also been a factor and many Afghans live below the poverty line as there is a gap between the income and expenditure, which was previously being met by foreign aid. After the Taliban takeover, foreign aid was discontinued and the reserves were frozen, banking restrictions emerged, the economy started crippling as a result. He further said that the government servants and entrepreneurs started leaving Afghanistan which further contributed to the freefall. As a result, the economy nosedived. Afghanistan is a trading country, with 800 to 900 million dollars’ worth of exports, with 7 to 8 billion dollars’ imports, with a large gap between revenue and expenditure. Post August 15, 2021, there has been no funding injection and the GDP has contracted by 30%. Between the years, 2013 to 2021, the size of the Afghan economy was 20 billion dollars and it started contracting, with employment rates going down. Ambassador Khan further said that the solution to the problems in Afghanistan is recognition, issue of CT, capacity building, terrorist challenge and all of these issues have to be addressed effectively.

The US and UN have provided some humanitarian aid but this has certainly not been enough. He further explained that recognition through dialogue is the answer. Similarly, he said that greater transit trade, connectivity, with trade and transit corridors emerging, will all receive a boost whenever the Afghan economy recovers. He also said that the focus should be on reviving the rail projects as well, which can provide great advantage. Talking about Pak Afghan trade, he said that Pakistan is one of the largest export destinations for Afghanistan whereas Pakistan is the third largest export destination for Afghanistan. He concluded by saying that we must ensure that Afghanistan does not go into isolation again.

Senator Anwar Ul Haq Kakar, while expressing his views said that if there is chaos in Afghanistan, there will be chaos in the region. He went on to say that the outside region is interested in their own advantage. Responsible withdrawal did not take place and the international community has spent so much on conflict in Afghanistan, however there has been no nation building or investment in infrastructure. Pointing out the contradictions, he said that when the NATO/ISAF forces were in control, there was not so much insecurity about security as there is now.  Six million children in Afghanistan are on the brink of starvation, therefore priorities should be reset in Afghanistan. Talking about the Afghan government, he said that if it is not a legitimate government, then how can it will held accountable. He said that communities should be allowed to grow naturally and there are certain questions regarding several issues and talking about girl’s education, he pointed out that how many girls had access to education previously. He said that we have a moral responsibility to rebuild in the better interest of Afghanistan and the Afghan people, he concluded.

Tamim Assey was of the view that it is the age of multi-polarity and in this age it is important that regions grow and engage in interdependent geo-economics. He said that the situation in Afghanistan, whether positive or negative, always has a spillover effect in the region. It is imperative to use Afghanistan’s assets rather than liability and use Afghanistan as a roundabout of cooperation for regional countries. He mentioned that now Taliban are in power and it is highly dependent on the leadership in Afghanistan to generate a vision for the country and develop management capabilities. On the humanitarian aspect he said Afghanistan is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and both internal and external factors are driving the crisis. He highlighted that freezing of assets and sanctions have badly impacted the economy of Afghanistan. In order to deal with the crisis the Afghan leadership should develop a legitimate vision and long term solutions for the looming situation. Along with this any long term economic development should have the private sector to be involved to tap maximum benefits.

Kazem Sajjadpour while talking about the evolving situation in Afghanistan highlighted three important aspects. Firstly, actor ship and hegemony, secondly balance and management and lastly, compass and cooperation. He said that Afghanistan has been defying everyones simplistic approaches towards it for the last century. He further said that everyone in Afghanistan has been playing the blame game for decades now so the question is, how do we analyze Afghanistan?  He highlighted that many actors including international, regional and local actors have been involved in Afghanistan. He stressed that it is wrong for any group in Afghanistan to think that it can dominate Afghanistan while ignoring the other actors. He further said that at this stage we should help Afghanistan to get out of  the current situation. For that there is a need to focus on the managerial side so that balance can be brought into Afghanistan. He also underlined the importance of the crucial condition of Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis because it will result in major human and economic catastrophe. While talking about the security he mentioned that security of Afghanistan is interlinked with the security of the regional countries as well so it must be ensured. Moreover, he said that regardless of whatever has happened in the past, all counties should have a working relationship with the Taliban in order to fill the gaps that have been created. In this regard, Iran has done a commendable job while working on the bilateral relationships between Iran and Afghanistan especially in the past 8 months, he concluded.

General Levent Gozkaya,  said that during the last twenty years Turkey’s approach towards Afghanistan was that if anyone leaves Afghanistan Turkey must stay there to support Afghan people, contribute security and stability in the region.  Talking about stability and security in Afghanistan he mentioned that it is imperative to look at the significant events in the history and lessons learnt from those practices. International community has spent billions of dollars for security and stability projects in Afghanistan but unfortunately expected outcome could not be obtained. If Pakistan’s efforts in this regard have been recognized then results could have been different. He highlighted that in order to reach the desired goal in Afghanistan security has to be guaranteed in the region.

Dr. Haiyun Ma was of the view that Afghanistan is a hotspot and because of its geographic location it is called a stabilizer in Eurasia. When US invaded Afghanistan it engaged all the regional countries in anti-terror war and with the US exit from Afghanistan; this war seems to be over. Now it is important to understand the response of the regional countries whether they have stopped their so called anti-terror war either domestically and regionally. He said that when we talk about economic reconstruction it does not have that kind of regional mechanism which is a major challenge. He also mentioned that Afghanistan does not have a unified government which is one of the major issues at this stage.  Because a number of international companies and other institutions want to invest in Afghanistan but they   cannot do so because of the looming situation.  He said that it is important to understand that all the regional countries should have economic mechanisms for Afghanistan’s economic reconstruction.  While talking about the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan he highlighted that Pakistan is not a great economic power and in order to change its geopolitical framework to geo-economics framework, it has been encouraging China to include Afghanistan in CPEC.