South Asian renaissance…

Guest post by Aarya Nijat, WB-SAES Youth Delegate from Afghanistan

“Nepal is heading for renaissance… and we should be thinking in terms of South Asian Renaissance.” Dr. Jagadish Pokhrel from Nepal.
So is Afghanistan heading for a renaissance and if yes, what version of a renaissance it is?

The first special panel included a series of talks by the representatives of SAARC Countries, including Afghanistan. Mr. sham Bathija responded to the following questions with the following content:

Questions: How does Afghanistan feel about being a SAARC member? How have you benefited as a SAARC member? Reflections on the challenges faced by the country as landlocked country, issues of connectivity through Pakistan, India and the rest of the region.

Mr. Bathija: (Said and I quote, to the best of my note taking capacity)

“Everyone is familiar with the past 30 years of conflict that Afghanistan has been through… Regional cooperation is very important to us, which is why we have joined all regional organizations such as SAARC, ECO, etc. Afghanistan has been at the cross road of civilizations… We are building up and facilitating trade, transport and customs…We would like to see our regional involvement particularly in economic integration even further…Afghanistan as you know is blessed with enormous amount of natural resources such as oil, gas, what not, but Afghanistan doesn’t have the capacity to explore these resources… so others should explore us (our resources) cause we lack human resource and technical capacity to do so… on the question of how we have benefited… well we are new to SAARC. Afghanistan is not very well connected unfortunately, from trade to investment and energy. We recently signed the AF-PAK agreement with Pakistan… and I read a book given to me a Pakistani friend called “Trunk Road from Kabul to Kolkata” so lets make that dream come true…but we haven’t benefited on preferential trade benefits…our export base is weak…30 million population of Afghanistan calls for manufacturing hubs from the region…next year is the political transition and the president will hopefully hand over power to the next… so we invite South Asian investors… we are sitting over trillions of dollars of natural resources that must be explored for the benefit of Afghanistan and the region.”

Responding to Dr. Bathija’s remarks, the moderator Mr. Farooq Sobhan said: “We look forward to smooth transition in 2014… The more successful we are in integrating Afghanistan in to the South Asian network, the better it is, not only for Afghanistan, but also for the region… the TAPI pipeline, mineral resources of Afghanistan offer a ray of optimism, but challenges remain.”

My reflections:
(This is a depersonalized reflection, only on the content of the panel talk given by the representative of the Government of Afghanistan.)

The rhetoric of 30 years/ 3 decades of conflict adds context to the debate of Afghanistan’s role in South Asia, but it is also old and routine now; we have to move past and beyond this, at some point if not now. This is great that we have membership of just about all regional networks, but what role we play in these forums and how we promote Afghanistan’s stance there is the main question, on which no remarks were made. The expression of interest in increased Afghan role in economic integration is great but should have been accompanied with some practical recommendations on how and why. We have natural resources and we would like the whole world to come explore them, but we should offer more than just an invite; how the Afghan government plans on monitoring the exploration process, how we are going to ensure accountability and transparency, or how are we doing as an EITI member (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) would have been some questions worth pausing upon.
Challenges remain, indeed.

Aarya Nijat
Youth Delegate