The Afghan presidential elections have taken yet another
turn after the first round led to a run-off between the two candidates – former
foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani.
The announcement of preliminary results on Sunday indicate a clear margin of
1.3 million votes in favor of Ashraf Ghani. Just before the official
announcement of preliminary vote count, Abdullah Abdullah raised concerns over
the impartiality of the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan with his
followers engaged in countrywide protests. With the final results of the
presidential elections already causing unrest and ISAF pulling out its troops
culminating a decade long war, Afghanistan is on the brink of a major turning
point in its history.
These key events will be crucial in defining the future of
Afghanistan, the trickle down effects of which will determine the stability of
the Pak-Afghan region. Concerns about what the future holds for this region
with a long history of violence and insurgency are growing eloquent and much
hue and cry is being raised in talk shows and newspapers. Local researchers and
development organizations working here have also expressed concern about
economic stability and peace in post-2014 milieu.
Trade plays a vital role in a region’s stability.
Afghanistan has been at the junction of trade routes between central, south and
west Asia for over 3000 years now. Pakistan has a twofold advantage in its
trade relations with Afghanistan; as a transit route between Afghanistan and
the west and as a supplier for Afghanistan’s growing needs of the post-war
economy. The bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan has shown an
increasing trend since the US war on terror with an increase in trade value of
$1.3 billion from US $1.1 billion in 2005-06 to US $2.4 billion in 2011-12.
These statistics show the documented trade only. Research by the Sustainable
Development Policy Institute (SDPI) indicates that the undocumented trade is
estimated to be three times that of the documented trade.
This increase in trade has increased employment particularly
in trade, transport, warehousing, and communication (TTWC) sectors in the
neighboring provinces on either side of the border. A study by SDPI on the
micro economic impact of Pak-Afghan transit and formal trade in Khyber
Paktunkhwa and Balochistan has brought to light some worrisome statistics.
According to calculations based on Household Income and
Expenditure Survey (HIES) in 2004-05 households that were associated with
employment in TTWC sectors were estimated to be about 1.64 million which
increased substantially to 8.2 million households in 2011-12. The mean nominal
incomes in TTWC sectors increased from 6000 PKR to 11,710 PKR in 2004-05 and
2011-12 respectively. In 2004-05, 38% of these 1.64 million households in TTWC
fell into the two poorest income quintiles. In 2011-12, 52% of 8.2 million
households fell into the poorest income quintiles implying that TTWC has
gradually become a significant employment provider.
To keep the Afghanistan-Pakistan trade momentum growing, it
is imperative to ensure a smooth transition when the ISAF exits so that the
peace, security and trade related dividends in the region does not go downhill from
there. Analysts describe the current setup of Afghanistan as a region with
pockets of power with the warlords. Therefore, it is crucial that the new
government prevents yet another upsurge of militancy. One way being proposed is
to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the USA which will define
the role of US forces in Afghanistan post-2014. Moreover, the Afghans must
ensure a stable supply of basic necessities including food and clothing items
to avoid panic and a state of anarchy.
Pakistan, which is already dealing with the spillover effect
of war in Afghanistan, is most vulnerable to what might happen there now. If
political instability disrupts the trade balance between the two nations, there
is a huge population in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan that might fall
below the poverty line after getting hit by unemployment. Moreover, with a
porous border Pakistan has no way to restrict Afghan refugees from entering the
country lest a civil war breaks out again. The military offensive in North
Waziristan has displaced more than 350,000 people. It is a big question whether
Pakistan can support such a huge influx of refugees and add to the already
overburdened social protection programs in place.
Pakistan and Afghanistan must let go of any grudge that they
might have for one another and work together to pave the way forward. Both the
countries cannot turn a blind eye from the impending storm and selfishly just
save their own country. Whatever the scenario in future, it is time for both to
realize that no single nation can prosper alone. The relations between
Afghanistan and Pakistan have been tense for quite some time now. Any steps
taken by Pakistan to ameliorate its relations with Afghanistan have not been
welcomed with the desired response. It is time now for Pakistan to mend its
ties with its upset neighbors and at the same time wisdom needs to be
reciprocated by the upcoming Afghan government.
One of the key levers that can create interdependencies
between nations is trade and investment cooperation. The government on both
sides should look into possibilities of strengthening existing trade
relationship and formalize liberal trading regimes between both countries. This
may require initiating bilateral trade and investment cooperation agreements
beyond the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. At the same time
infrastructure cooperation particularly in transport and communications sectors
can lend quick economic gains for both neighbors.
This article was originally published at:
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.