Ceasefire, peace talks poised to increase development projects in Kunduz

By Hedayatullah

A young man sells tomatoes in Kunduz city August 31. [Hedayatullah] 

A young man sells tomatoes in Kunduz city August 31. [Hedayatullah] 

KUNDUZ -- Officials and residents of Kunduz Province are hopeful that a ceasefire and intra-Afghan peace talks between the government and Taliban will build confidence among investment partners and spur development projects.

All Afghans have become more hopeful for a ceasefire and for the success of intra-Afghan peace talks, said Muhammad Tahir Rozi, director of the Kunduz Department of Economy.

A date for the opening round of talks to be hosted in Doha, Qatar, has not been set, but both sides indicated that negotiations could begin soon after they wrapped up a controversial and months-long prisoner exchange last week.

The Taliban's seriousness about peace will be evident from the outset, when Kabul's negotiating team pushes for a permanent ceasefire, Vice President Amrullah Saleh told TOLOnews on Sunday (September 6).

"The first test for the Taliban is [a] ceasefire," he said. "If they accept the ceasefire, they are committed to peace. If not, they are not."

Overcoming obstacles to economic growth

Donors and international organisations have implemented 140 development projects with a total cost of 5 billion AFN ($65 million) throughout Kunduz Province since March 20, Rozi said.

By implementing these projects, they have created 10,000 jobs in Kunduz city and districts of Kunduz Province, he said.

"These projects include building water intakes, canals, protection walls, gravel roads, schools, health clinics, water schemes and deep wells for drinkable water, which have been implemented in Imam Sahib, Khanabad and Aliabad districts and Kunduz city," he said.

"Some donors and international organisations have promised us that they will implement many [more] projects in Kunduz Province once a ceasefire among Afghans has been achieved," he said.

Seventy Afghan and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and relief agencies, which closed all their local offices after Kunduz city twice fell to the Taliban -- in September 2015 and October 2016 -- have resumed their operations, according to Rozi.

Conflict and unrest are a major obstacle to economic growth, he said, adding that the continuation of war has posed challenges to development.

Creating jobs

Projects implemented in the province have had positive economic impact on local families, said Kunduz residents.

"This year, eight small and large projects were implemented in our district, and our people gained access to roads, schools, bridges and drinking water," said Abdul Samad Safi, a tribal elder in Aliabad District.

Hundreds of district residents are working on these development projects, which help them support their families, he said.

"Today, some of the Taliban bear arms because of poverty and unemployment," he said, blaming the unrest for the lack of jobs. "When a project is implemented in their area, they will lay down their weapons and find work."

"If development projects are implemented in Kunduz, I can say with confidence that there will be a 50% decline in unrest and violence," Safi said.

Maqsood Sharifi, 40, a resident of Imam Sahib District, said he was "jobless for a long time".

"Now, it is with God's mercy that I earn 300 AFN ($4) as a daily wage and that I'm able to pay my living expenses," he said.

"I have been working on the canal construction project in Qadam Jai village of Imam Sahib District for three months," he said. "I work alongside 15 other people on the canal."

"I'm happy the project provides irrigation water to our farmland, and we are able to make some money," he said.

Continuing the rebuilding process

"Although Kunduz is a war-torn province, it has made considerable achievements in rebuilding," said Safiullah Amiri, the deputy chairman of the Kunduz provincial council.

"Fortunately, this year I have personally seen dozens of small and large projects delivered in Kunduz city and districts of Kunduz, which are big accomplishments for the country's rebuilding," he said.

"Today, our rural countrymen benefit from a road and bridges, have buildings for a school and clinic, and have access to electricity and water," he said.

"Thanks to the provincial council's monitoring of the service delivery process through the local government, most of the projects have been implemented with higher quality, and villagers have gained access to better facilities," he said.

The Kunduz Department of Economy has implemented 67 development projects since March 20 in Kunduz city and Aliabad District using 2.5 billion AFN ($32.5 million) from the government's national development budget, according to Rozi.

These projects have provided 13,000 jobs, he said.

In addition, the Operation and Support Office of the President for National Development has delivered six large projects, including construction of university dormitories, health centre, gymnasium and mosque with a total cost of 600 million AFN ($7.8 million), he said.

Dozens of other small and large projects are in progress, he said.

Implementing these projects has not only created jobs but has improved the livelihoods of families, reduced poverty and connected villages to district centres, he said.

Prioritising projects for maximum impact

The local administration facilitates the implementation of development projects by the government and NGOs, said Esmatullah Muradi, a spokesman for the Kunduz governor.

"Relief agencies should prioritise those projects that have major economic and social impacts," he said.

"We have many programmes in mind to build women's capacity and increase their self-reliance when peace comes to the country," said Rashin Habibi, director of the NGO Women's Hope for Peace for Life (AHPL) in Kunduz Province.

"Projects we have in mind for women are awareness raising, rule of law, capacity building and creation of jobs for impoverished women in various areas," she said.

Although the Afghan government has made many efforts to reduce poverty and create jobs for women, more are needed, she said, adding that women should have the same work opportunities as men and gain access to more jobs after the peace agreement.

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Undoubtedly, war is the main cause for backwardness, and it hinders the economic growth of insecure provinces, such as Kunduz. Kunduz province was once considered the granary of Afghanistan, and its people had a good economy, but unfortunately for the past twenty years, Kunduz province has been the most insecure province of Afghanistan. The ongoing wars confronted people of this province with various problems, and these wars also caused Kunduz province remained behind in terms of growth and development. Although Kunduz is in the zone of four provinces, namely Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan and Kunduz, it has not made any progress. Other northeastern provinces have made significant progress compared to Kunduz. The people of Kunduz are eagerly waiting for peace and intra-Afghan dialogues, and they hope that after the talks of Qatar, a nationwide peace will come in this country so that the Afghan people can resume their normal lives.