The strategic goals of the national unity government for the ‘transformation period’ between 2015 and 2024
It is nearly five months after the national unity government (NUG) took over and the executive branch is taking shape after much deliberation.
The NUG faces challenges and opportunities with no strategic goals except for what is outlined in the agreement between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer, Abdullah Abdullah and the presidential decree.
This paper is a guide to the NUG to formulate a strategic plan in order to achieve the goals it has set out to rebuild the country.
For more than 30 years now, Afghanistan has suffered occupation, war and unrest that have not allowed Afghans to truly come to peace and build the country. Witnessing Afghanistan’s recent history, one can only conclude that it was probably the darkest time sending Afghanistan to the abyss of Stone Age nearly rendering her permanently comatose, if not for the fortunate international intervention 13 years ago.
Afghanistan in the last one decade with the assistance of the international community has progressed towards self-reliance and made strides in many sectors. These efforts to a large extent have been successful as evident in the progress made in Afghanistan.
The economy has expanded and brought opportunities for many. Nine million children attend primary and elementary schools. Half a million young Afghans attend college and universities throughout the country. More than 30,000 kilometers of roads have been paved creating mobility and economic opportunities.
Afghans for the first time in their history elected a parliament and a president three times.
Women are now in leadership positions, entrepreneurs, activists, and decision makers. Seventeen million (out of 30) have mobile phones. Five million have access to television.
Three million have access to Internet.
Today, there are more than 40 TV channels, over a 100 radio stations, and more than 500 newspapers and magazines. Kabul and most cities in major provinces have 24 hours electricity. Afghanistan has a functioning government capable of providing basic services to citizens.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) reaches 300,000 and is trained by some of the most advanced military in the world, and leads the nation’s security defense.
No one denies remnants of Al Qaida and Taliban lurking as evidenced in its daily activities throughout Afghanistan. Given that they are not capable of mounting major attacks on coalition or Afghan forces or have full control of any particular region, but they have learned to adapt to a lesser more sinister operation: increased suicide bombings, targeted assassination of political and tribal leaders and government officials, and at times resort to intimidation.
These tactics have increased in the last one year, but have not yielded the intended results. Afghans are resolute to build the nation.
The global economic slowdown has severally hampered business growth even in the most advanced and wealthiest economies of the world. One can only imagine how much the more than 30 years of debilitating conflict, war, and unrest has devastated the Afghan economy.
Further, despite the economic progress of the last decade, Afghan economy is still donor driven and not self-sustainable. Experts estimate that it will take another decade for Afghanistan to be self-sustainable.
It is self-evident by now that military alone does not guarantee peace or stability in Afghanistan, rather Afghanistan desperately needs a robust economy that will bring about the necessary changes to promote peace and stability. Afghans are optimistic about their future and are resolute to build the country and take their rightful place among nations of the world.
Afghans entered a new era of transformation in their history when they went to the polling stations and elected a new president in April 2014. This is the period that Afghanistan will need a strong leader and strategy to become self-sufficient and prosperous given it will fully be in charge of its security and economy.
The immediate focus – the first five years now that NUG is shaping up - will be on security, inclusive and sustained economic growth and development, representational democracy and equitable elections, governance, rule of law, integrity of public finance and banking, government revenues and sound fiscal policy.
NUG is a catalyst for “United for a Better Future”, the focus is not on what happened, though we learn from it, but rather what can be forged ahead and continued to build a prosperous, independent, and economically and militarily strong Afghanistan to live in peace with itself and its neighbors.
This strategy is a dramatic departure from the past 12 year donor run economy to a market economy facilitated by the government. However, still other aspects of the current policies and plans should be continued not only to preserve the gains made in the last decade, but rather to expand and further strengthen those sectors especially technology, media, preservation of unity, and women’s rights.
Afghans believe in a pragmatic and practical plan to achieve the intended goals rather than pontificate abstract philosophical plan that is unrealistic and unattainable.
The immediate focus in the first five years is to build a secure and peaceful Afghanistan, and dispelling any fear about the future security, requires: 1) strengthening the Afghan security forces that is well equipped; 2) continued engagement with the opposition to reach an amicable reconciliation and resolution; 3) further uniting and strengthening relationship amongst the heterogeneous society; and 4) improving opportunities for the Afghan women.
The withdrawal of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and security transition means ANSF must defend the independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Afghanistan, and maintain law and order internally.
Security transition is not static but a dynamic process. The strategic agreements signed with several nations now, specifically with the United States, does not end in December 2014, but rather calls for a sovereign and stable Afghanistan with continued security support to the ANSF in the form of an ongoing training and equipping.
Therefore, NUG should work with the international partners to further strengthen ANSF, especially the Afghan Air Force. A strong and well-equipped force means a peaceful Afghanistan.
Healing wounds that have remained untreated for so long will ultimately depend on a program of forgiveness, admission, application of equal justice and opportunity, reintegration and the creation of a good neighborly environment-a neutral foreign policy benefiting all without compromising territorial integrity and sovereignty.
History recorded on many occasions that while Afghans hail from a proud diverse heritage, they are all resolute, strong, passionate, hardworking and always come together against all odds. A common goal for all Afghans is to build a peaceful and prosperous country.
The recipe for uniting everyone to build a better future is affording equal opportunity to all Afghans in every aspect of Afghan society. To that end, NUG should create an equal opportunity program allowing Afghans from all over Afghanistan equal opportunity at every level.
The Afghan women make half of the population, are a proven catalyst for change, and are a strong contributor to peace and security. They have achieved much in the last decade including gaining roles in decision-making and leadership positions, entrepreneurship, access to healthcare and education.
However, the achievements are newly gained and require firm commitment to continue throughout the transformation period- the next decade. Afghan women must be given an equal opportunity in every sector of the society in order to achieve peace and security. NUG should be committed to improve opportunities and strengthening equality for women as God-given rights.
NUG should design an economic policy guided by ‘State Guided Market Economy’. Given the tradition and the allocation of natural resources, Afghanistan is ripe for State Guided Market Economy.
One of the most important principles of ‘State Guided Market Economy’ is a precise and calculated public and private sector cooperation. The main thrust of this cooperation is that the ownership of production and services are in the hands of the private sector, where the public sector provides incentives such as lower taxes and interest rates, cheaper land and energy, protection of investments from the unfair trade practices of the global economy and lower tariffs for capital goods needed for domestic investments.
According to a World Bank report, the Afghan economy (Gross Domestic Product) grew by 11 percent average each year for the last 11 years. Compared to South Asian countries, Afghanistan economy has done fairly well with respect to growth. Its’ GDP is $20 billion with some estimates that anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of it is from foreign aid.
Longer-term projections are less positive. Aid levels are expected to decline significantly, which will reduce GDP growth to levels of 4 to 5 percent per year. Despite projections of improved growth in domestic revenue collection, a substantial gap will exist in funding through the transformation period. Afghanistan’s biggest economic challenge is finding sources of sustainable and equitable growth, and revenue collection mechanism.
The Afghan economy will hit an adjustment period as it is heavily driven by the “Charitable Economy” of the last decade. Yet, this charitable economy also brought the intended results of empowering Afghans to now invest the money earned during the contracting period in the country. Many young Afghans who have amassed millions are now learning and finding creative ways to invest in consumer products and converting this economy to a market driven one.
NUG should cease this opportunity and create incentive to facilitate this sector of new investors. This period will take some time but the transformation period until 2024 is the perfect time for Afghans to establish a sustainable market driven economy guided by the government. Currently there is money in Afghanistan ready to be invested but are not invested because Afghanistan lacks the legal and infrastructure tools.
The economic plan for the next five years is to expand agriculture sector, Trade Routes (silk road), expansion of domestic market, cautiously pursuing the extractive industry, promulgating laws enabling both Afghans and foreigners to invest without fear, and developing a strong and transparent commercial banking sector.
Over 75 percent of Afghans live in rural areas and primarily depend on husbandry. Agriculture contributes to nearly half of the country’s GDP excluding poppy, and according to the World Bank report, only 40 percent of the current arable (12% of 65 million hectares) land is irrigated. Increasing the agriculture sector to the remaining 60 percent will increase the GDP by nearly one-half of the current GDP.
NUG should devise a national plan to expand the agriculture sector in the next five years.
The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries reported last year Afghanistan imported to more than 40 countries fresh and dry fruit valued at millions of dollars. NUG should work and cooperate with Pakistan to improve and strengthen the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) and remove any impediments to allow this market to flourish.
NUG should play more active role to take advantage of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) membership and market. The plan further would be to revitalize the new Silk Road connecting Afghanistan with South and Central Asia by creating a free trade zone – the largest economic market in Asia. Make no mistake the fortunes are tied between Afghanistan and its neighbors. The region is marred with conflict and insecurities.
Therefore, it is the region, not Afghanistan alone, to work together to ensure that every state will realize their shared aspiration for a stable, secure and prosperous region. NUG should promote and work for The South-Central Asian Free Zone (SCAFZ) policy within South and Central Asia.
Internally the focus should be on building the infrastructure conducive for economic expansion. Two vital components of this expansion are strengthening the country’s energy and mobility.
It is essential to establish power plants from hydro and major coal burning power plants throughout the country. Solar and wind turbine energy should also be promoted to provide the much needed energy requirements of the country.
Equally important is connecting Afghans from every corner of the country by expanding paved roads so that it will fuel immediately the economy and fill the gap created by the donor funded economy, but also provide sustain economic market for domestic products. For instance, currently the five major border provinces because of lack of adequate and inefficient infrastructure and energy mostly import its products at less than market prices.
With the development of more roads but especially a railroad connecting major Afghan provinces a Mazari watermelon leaving Mazar-e-Sharif in the morning can reach Kandahar around Iftar and a Kandahari grape can similarly be shipped the opposite direction.
With 30 million consumer market, connecting Afghanistan by railroad is crucial not only for creating and expanding domestic economy but for uniting the people. Mobility allows for exchange of ideas, views, cultures, languages, and removes any barriers to intermingling.
The extractive sector is new, and thus must be pursued with much care to explore for a variety of reasons including security, corruption, regulatory schemes (child labor and environmental issues), and most importantly the probable negative economic impact on growth. NUG should devise a joint plan in collaboration with the private sector taking all aspects in to account in exploring and developing this sector of the economy.
Laws must be promulgated to enable investment and to provide mechanism for redress. The commercial banking system should be revamped to play its vital role in the economic and social development of the country by enabling them to fulfill the financial needs of all sectors but specifically the agriculture, technology, communication, trade, and construction sectors.
Afghans face a daunting challenge in developing governance in the country capable of serving the people. Having lived through and experienced a multiplicity of corrupt regimes, Afghans know better to change course for a better future. The lack of capacity and political will are the main reasons for the current situation. And the most dangerous act anyone can do is to continue the status quo, as it is a short cut to insecurity and instability.
Admittedly, change will not be easy, but to that end, NUG should commit its energy and resources to building the administrative capacity of the civil servants to bring back integrity to the public office; and should make solemn oath that it will garner, through implementing several strategic plans and by the strengths of the people, the political will to overcome all obstacles to promoting good governance.
In achieving these goals, NUG must focus on improving and expanding educational opportunities for the people throughout Afghanistan improve and expand access to health care, promulgate laws so Afghans could have access to information and hold public officials accountable. NUG should develop a sound fiscal policy, and create methods and mechanisms to increase tax collections. Further, establish e-governance, and transparency.
The root cause of all evil in Afghanistan is corruption coupled with wanton disregard for the law that threatens security of Afghanistan and impedes progress. If not dealt with swiftly, it will destabilize and simply stop progress, particularly predatory corruption. A robust and independent law judiciary is a necessary ingredient in the fight against this menace.
Rule of law can only be implemented and respected when NUG improves and expands the capability of law enforcement agencies including the attorney general office. NUG’s slogan should be: No one is above the law, no one will reign with impunity, and everyone will have his or her day in court.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
We the People of Afghanistan believe and are optimistic that our future is bright, stable, secure and prosperous, yet fraught with hazards and challenges. We also believe that no other person or country can build Afghanistan except us.
The strategic goals proposed in this paper for NUG are simply an impetus for serious planning, however, building a better future with national unity requires consensus of all people.
For this reason, the paper is presented for your review and discussion to start a nationwide dialogue in order to achieve the desired objectives. The 2014 presidential election and peaceful transition illustrated our resolve and desire to a better future.
Given the difficult year ahead of forming a new government, the withdrawal of ISAF, and the peace negotiations, it is even more vital that we reach coalition and stand united for a better future. Instantly, it is necessary to work together to put national interests above individual.
Presently, no signs are given to the contrary. To avoid a potential security and constitutional crises, we need to reach a national consensus on these issues to pave the way for the transformation period and unit to build a better future as one.
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