Two questions from an Afghan perspective…

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

The South Asian Economic Summit (SAES) is inspired by DAVOS and aspires to eventually transform to the South Asian DAVOS. This, on one hand is an inspiring aspiration to have with dynamics of expansion. But on the other, given the wide criticism of DAVOS as an inclusive platform, this aspiration does raise some concerns over the depth and practicality of the discussion that SAES wishes to offer a platform to.

As the Youth Delegate from Afghanistan, the first thing I did was to search for the Afghan Delegates or Representatives of the Afghan Government. And here is what I find: The Afghan Government remains absent in person from the Summit. Mr. Sham Bathija, represents the Afghan Government. I am sure Mr. Bathija will offer great representation for Afghanistan. But I still cannot resist raising the question: Why is there so few Afghan government representatives?

In my opinion two factors may have contributed to this absence.

The Question of Identity:
“Are we South Asian?”, is a question we haven’t yet figured out an answer to back home in Afghanistan. For most of my life I thought we are Central Asian; Afghanistan mostly referred to as the “heart of Asia.” Afghanistan became a member of the SAARC in the post 2001 era, but this role identity is yet to be owned by a majority of Afghans. For those of us with some familiarity with the South Asian culture, through migration to Pakistan or India, adopting or owning a South Asian identity is easier. If nothing, Bollywood has played a significant role in this! But for the remaining, in particular from the north, with shared border, linguistic and cultural connections to the Central Asian Republics, the South Asian identity is yet to find a context. Who we are in the regional context is a question worth discussing back home.

The Question of Programmatic Priority:
“Is economic development a consciously adopted priority for Afghans” is the second question, which in my opinion has contributed to our formal absence from the Summit. Economic development, in particular local economic development is yet to become a nationally owned debate. We are focused on politics and political developments, which is great, but at the cost of not attention economic development. Of course, with only 7 months to go to the 2014 Presidential Elections marking the beginning of the transformation decade (2014-2024) political developments are important, yet only a topic for short term focus. Economic development and our role in the greater regional debates on South Asian (and/or Central Asian) economic development, as a theme deserving long-term attention, should not be ignored or overlooked.

Aarya Nijat
Youth Delegate