Afghanistan and regional cooperation: Opportunities and impediments

Mosa Ahmadzai, Kabul

Mosa Ahmadzai, Kabul

Regional cooperation is important for regional peace and stability. It is regional cooperation through which regional countries can coordinate their efforts to bring an ever lasting and durable peace and stability in the region. This cooperation could also plays an important role in social and economic development of the region. Without regional cooperation peace, stability and economic growth is not feasible, it is economic cooperation between countries of the region which can inevitably lead to political and economic stability.

Cooperation between Central and South Asia will be an important instance for regional cooperation and integration. South and Central Asian countries can intensify their commercial ties and tighten their cordial relations through regional cooperation and integration. Central  Asia  which is having abundant energy resources is outstandingly indispensable for South Asia which lacks energy to meet its energy requirements. It is Central Asia which can provide energy to South Asia, no countries can make sustainable development without energy, it is  energy and natural resources which can meet the needs.

South Asia needs energy which Central Asia can provide, much energy will be  transmitted from central Asia to South Asia. Central Asia can play crucial role in the enhancement of industry and factories of South Asia, sufficient workforce, markets and availability of natural resources give uniqueness to Central Asia, this region is of great importance geopolitically and geoeconmically, transmission of energy from Central Asia to south Asia will have economic benefits for both, central Asia will sell its natural  resources and energy to south Asia, which will in retrospective improve it’s economy and will complete it’s energy demands.

Along with South and Central Asia, Iran is also an important country in the region currently it’s economy is fast  growing, regionally Iran is an indispensable  producer of oil and gas. China which is economically the world second power has economic benefits in the region, China can integrate itself with countries of the region and other countries of the world through one road one belt initiative better known as the Belt and Road initiative, it focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries, it is an old project but China wants to revitalize it again. India can find access to central Asia by Chabahar  port through Afghanistan. Chabahar can play a substantive role in  strengthening of commercial ties between Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia with India. The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is also another important regional project which is intended to rapidly modernize Pakistan infrastructure and strengthen its economy by the construction of modern transportation, networks, numerous energy projects and special economic zone for the intensification of regional cooperation.

Some important regional projects have been initiated such as Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Gas pipeline (TAPI) which is an important project for regional connectivity, the agreement of TAPI pipeline was signed between Turkministan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The demand for the initiation of this project was made by the two arch rivals, India and Pakistan, both of them made the demand for the completion of energy requirements, the  TAPI  pipeline will transmit 33 billion cubic meters of natural gas over three years from Turkuministan  through Afghanistan to Pakistan and then India. The implementation of TAPI pipeline will not be only important for Afghanistan alone but it will also play a crucial role in the South Asia energy, industry, technology and security, this project will not only have economic implications but also it will decrease political differences and feuds between the regional countries and its benefits will also go to those countries which have a share in it. Along with this some other important projects are worth mentioning such as central Asia-South Asia electricity transmission and trade project (CASA 1000) and Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Tajikistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan electricity project (TUTAP).

Afghanistan is the bridge between central and South Asia, the middle East and the far East, Afghanistan is a hub for regional connectivity and integration, many countries of the region can integrate themselves with other countries of the region through Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is going to provide huge economic opportunities not only to Afghanistan but also to its neighbors. This also pings major responsibilities on Afghanistan to work with its neighbors towards policies and constitutional mechanisms to translate this potential into concrete regional projects.

The government of Afghanistan is committed to share the benefits of its centrality with its neighbors and countries beyond its immediate neighborhood. Regional cooperation is one of the main priorities of the Afghan government since the formation of interim government and that is why the former president of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and the current president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani have paid special heed to regional cooperation. They have always focused on regional cooperation between the regional countries which will lead to peace and stability in the region.  They have striven to accelerate regional cooperation and integration, both presidents tried to attend every held conference on regional cooperation.

Peace and stability in the region is not inevitable without peace and stability in Afghanistan and the countries of the region can work together to maintain peace and stability by their collective efforts in Afghanistan and the region. It is the willingness of Afghanistan towards regional cooperation that it became the member of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and having observer status in Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO). The Heart of Asia dubbed as the Istanbul Process was established to discuss regional issues particularly encouraging security, political and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors.

There are obstacles and impediments for regional cooperation which leads to its failure, there are various political systems in the region which became the reason for the failure of regional cooperation, the provision of sanctuaries for terrorist groups in the region has been the chief source of tension and mistrust. There is also lack of trust between the regional countries which is also the causation for the slowdown of cooperative efforts disputes, fundamentalist groups, absence of mutual understanding  and mistrust between the regional countries, giving primacy to security in foreign policies are the major impediments for regional cooperation and integration. Intervention in the internal affairs of one country by another is also a complete disregard for the tightening of regional cooperation in  the region, disrespect  for  the territorial  integrity, confrontation and contention  in the region which is considered by the regional countries a better determination for their destiny in the region.

After the studies of the impediments of regional cooperation, we can say that regional cooperation is essential for regional peace and stability and economic growth but there is absence of regional cooperation in the region and the regional countries do not whole heartedly give primacy to regional cooperation and integration. For the removal of obstacles of regional cooperation there is need of pragmatic policies for the solutions of major and small issues and problems that will turn the region from contention and conflict to peace and stability, and it will facilitate social and economic development of the regional countries through pragmatic cooperation, the countries of the region must halt intervention in the internal affairs of other countries .

The international organizations can help and play an important role in the extension of regional cooperation. The civil society, media and intellectuals must pressurize their governments to put an end to their major political differences by negotiations and discussions and give priority to economic and social issues rather than to security and political issues. There are opportunities and huge potentials for regional cooperation. Cooperation among the regional countries will change the deteriorated situation of the region.

By Mohammad Mosa Ahmadzai

The writer is a ICCR scholar and independent researcher, based in Kabul. He can be reached at

ahmadzai_sarwar@yahoo.com

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