Economy

Violence remains greatest obstacle to economic prosperity in Afghanistan

By Sulaiman

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An internally displaced woman on May 3 carries free aid over her shoulders distributed during the holy month of Ramadan in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e-Sharif. [FARSHAD USYAN/AFP]

KABUL -- Afghanistan has great economic potential with an abundance of natural resources and an ample labour force, but the perpetrators of violence are thwarting growth and development, investment and trade analysts say.

The war has destroyed infrastructure projects, halted development and caused billions of dollars in losses of potential investments and jobs for Afghans.

"Afghanistan could have become one of the most prosperous and richest countries in the region thanks to its natural resources and manpower, but the war and failure to ensure peace have created an obstacle to the economic growth and development of Afghanistan," said Azarakhsh Hafizi, a member of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment.

"Every country's economic growth relies on peace and security, and in their absence, every effort for economic growth can fail," he said.

"Many efforts have been made in the past 20 years for economic growth and prosperity of Afghanistan, which helped build some infrastructure as well, but the continuation of war destroyed this infrastructure again, caused these attempts to fail and ruined the financial and economic system," he added.

"The international community, especially the United States, provided abundant and generous economic support that paved the way for trade and investment, economic growth, and job creation," Hafizi said. "But the war and its perpetrators deprived Afghans of this golden opportunity, destroying the economy and increasing poverty and unemployment, and the aid that could have been spent on economic growth and job creation instead financed the war."

"Mines, one of the revenue sources that can strengthen the economy and create jobs, went unused because of war," he said.

Hafizi gave two examples of lost potential without specifying the dates.

"A while ago, one of our investors purchased excavators for hundreds of thousands of dollars from Germany, and when [his employees] started to work on one of the mines in Takhar Province, insurgents stopped their work and threw the excavators off the mountain."

"Similarly, a pomegranate juice factory was blown up in Pul-e-Charkhi [Industrial Park] of Kabul, costing the investors hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and hundreds of workers their jobs," he said.

"The war has put the lives and investments of [Afghan] entrepreneurs in jeopardy, forcing 8,400 traders and investors to move their businesses and economic operations to Turkey and invest millions of dollars there," he said. "If there was no war, they would invest and operate in their own country, which would help the economy to grow and reduce poverty."

"The war has had a considerable impact on the economic growth of Afghanistan and prosperity of Afghans," Hafizi said.

War has hobbled Afghan growth

"According to a World Bank report and a Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework document, the war is the biggest reason behind lack of economic growth and of development and the surge in unemployment," said Abdul Basir Azimi, a former deputy minister of energy and water.

"The war has caused development and economic projects to stop," he said. "As economic and development projects can't be implemented in most parts of the country, Afghans' livelihoods don't grow, and economic issues and unemployment have considerably increased in these areas."

"The past 20 years created a huge opportunity for growth in Afghanistan and for Afghans, tens of billions of dollars in grants were provided for the country's development and improvement of Afghan lives, dozens of countries and organisations implemented years-long projects for the growth of Afghanistan and Afghans," he said. "But unfortunately, the war put an obstacle to that growth."

Afghanistan has a great location from an economic perspective as it can connect South Asia to Central Asia, Azimi said. As a transit corridor between the two regions, Afghanistan could earn millions of dollars per year.

"But the war hasn't let that happen; instead, we've incurred losses of millions of dollars," he said.

"Afghanistan has one of the best locations for foreign trade and investment," said Sayed Azeem Kabarzani, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Herat Province.

"Reports show that, if there was not any unrest in Afghanistan, foreign traders would invest billions of dollars in many sectors, especially mining, which could make Afghanistan economically self reliant and significantly reduce unemployment," he said.

"Afghanistan has abundant natural resources and water," he said. "If we didn't have war, the government could make Afghanistan prosperous through managing the water alone."

Immense lost potential

"In addition to destroying economic infrastructure, the war has hampered the growth and success of Afghans and Afghanistan," Kabarzani said.

"The international community's support to Afghanistan created an opportunity for the economic growth, development and prosperity of Afghans, but the war and its perpetrators stole this chance from the public, creating a big obstacle to the self-reliance of Afghans and their prosperity," he said.

"The war has ruined the economic infrastructure of Afghanistan," said Mirza Muhammad Yarmand, a former deputy minister of Interior Affairs.

"Private companies and investors have seen losses in every explosion and attack. Highways have been destroyed," he said. "Most important, the government has shifted all its attention to containing the war and ensuring stability."

"If there wasn't any war, the government could spend all its energy oninitiatives that could lead to growth, a reduction in poverty and unemployment, the prosperity of Afghanistan and a considerable change in the livelihoods of Afghans," he added.

"If there was no war, it is obvious that aid would have been spent on building infrastructure, creating employment and building roads and highways," Yarmand said. "We wouldn't have a country dependent on foreign aid and plagued by unemployment and poverty."

The under-construction Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural-gas pipeline is another example of opportunities squandered, said Muhammad Omar Safi, a former governor of Kunduz.

"Large economic projects such as TAPI, which has [potential] revenues of millions of dollars for Afghanistan, haven't been implemented because of the war," he said.

"If there were peace and security, the work on this project, hydro-electric dams and hundreds of other products would begin employing thousands of Afghans and improving the economic conditions [of Afghanistan]," Safi said.

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If violence or war of Afghanistan is not ended, Afghanistan will face a major economic crisis in the next one decade that neither the United States nor the international community will be able to resolve the problem of Afghanistan. All the misfortunes of Afghanistan have been due to poverty and hunger. If the people of Afghanistan had a good life, possessed a good economic situation and there were job opportunities for the people, I do not think that the youths of this country would have taken up arms and fought. Therefore, if the International Community, particularly the United States wants to end the 40-year war in Afghanistan, it should improve the economic situation of the people of this country; otherwise, no security will come in this country and Afghanistan will turn into a headache for the countries of the region.

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Over the past twenty years, billions of dollars have been donated to Afghanistan by the International Community, but all the money has been embezzled by the internal and external stealers. I think if the donated money were distributed to the people, every Afghan household would have received at least one hundred thousand US dollars. So when every Afghan household had a hundred thousand dollars capital, poverty would have been alleviated in the society automatically and the economy of the people would have improved, but the International Community did not do that. They deliberately kept the people of Afghanistan poor, because if the people of Afghanistan became rich, then who would have carried out the proxy war of the region? If the people of Afghanistan were rich, then who would have become the victims of the war of Russia and the United States? Because war in Afghanistan is a foreign war imposed on the innocent people of Afghanistan? It has been 40 years since the people of Afghanistan have been burning because of the war of the countries of the region. These countries of the region have taken the advantage of the poverty and ignorance of the people of Afghanistan and forced them to fight among themselves.

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