Maritime security — on which much else depends — is interconnected with events in landlocked countries. Afghanistan is a prime example: Over the past 40 years, geopolitical tensions have imposed destructive conflicts on what is one of the most naturally endowed countries at the heart of rising Asia.
Recently, this author participated in an international maritime conference — SAGAR Dialogue organised by the Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS) — that discussed “security and growth for all” in the Indian Ocean region. The conference aptly took place in India’s coastal city of Goa with a long history of maritime trade and commercial exchange among different civilisations of the South, East and West. Coming from a landlocked country, Afghanistan, it was a unique learning experience for the author, as he listened to speaker after speaker on the challenges and opportunities that involve blue oceans.
Because many of the difficulties facing maritime security are land-based, an inclusive approach — which promotes cooperation and partnership between littoral and landlocked countries to resolve their shared problems — should be utilised. It goes without saying that maritime security, on which much else depends, is interconnected with events in landlocked countries. Afghanistan is a prime example: Over the past 40 years, geopolitical tensions have imposed destructive conflicts on what is one of the most naturally endowed countries at the heart of rising Asia.
In absence of peace in Afghanistan to enable sustainable development that secures the future of its youthful population, poverty permeates the Afghan society. And this provides an enabling environment for such maritime security challenges as terrorism, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and human trafficking — among others.
Over the past 16 years, Afghanistan has been a victim of state-sponsorship of terrorism. As a proxy of a coastal state, the Taliban have daily killed and maimed innocent Afghans, while destroying the infrastructure that should help connect and integrate Afghanistan with its surrounding resourceful regions in the North and South for increased trade, business, and investment.
State-sponsored terrorism has allowed some 20 other terrorist networks with global and regional reach to operate out of Afghanistan. At the same time, this imposed insecurity has enabled a permissive environment for mass drug cultivation and production in Afghanistan, which now provides more than 90% of regional and global demand for drugs. In turn, revenues from drug trade finance terrorism and fuel dysfunctional corruption that undermines governance and rule of law, which together destabilise drug producing and transit countries alike.
Because of the interconnectedness of these imposed security challenges, Afghanistan is facing a complex humanitarian crisis with diminishing human security. Hence, this makes the country a major source of refugees and asylum seekers, who are often ferried by human smugglers to Europe, Australia and elsewhere. As we see, what is imposed on and happens in countries like Afghanistan directly affect maritime security.
This dangerous situation necessitates that littoral and landlocked states no longer pause but join hands, pool their resources, and share intelligence to pursue and implement a common counter-terrorism strategy, which doesn’t make any distinction between terrorist networks. Alongside this effort, they must work together to free their nations off abject poverty, knowing that a lack of human security allows terrorists, extremists, and state-sponsors of terrorism to recruit among the jobless, destitute youth to radicalise, brainwash, and exploit them in conflicts of their choice.
Indeed, the best way to fight poverty that feeds terrorism is to foster political and security confidence-building through regional economic cooperation. The latter can serve as an important enabler in deepening connectivity, enhancing competitiveness and productivity, lowering transaction costs, and expanding markets in any region. How can this be done? In fact, Afghanistan has already put forth a strategic solution for adoption and implementation by its coastal and landlocked neighbours: The Heart of Asia–Istanbul Process (HOA-IP) and The Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA).
These Afghanistan-led processes were established to help secure regional cooperation for the country’s stabilisation and sustainable development, thereby ensuring stability and prosperity throughout its surrounding regions. Even though they remain underutilised so far, it is in the best short and long-term interests of coastal and non-coastal countries that participate in the two processes to double and triple their efforts to achieve the shared goals of the two platforms. Of course, every tangible step they take to utilise these interconnected processes will help minimise these and other nations’ security and socio-economic vulnerabilities against the terrorist-extremist predators and their state-sponsors. That is why time is of essence and they must reaffirm their often-pledged commitments to the implementation of the projects and programmes, proposed under the two processes.
On 14-15 of this month, the seventh meeting of RECCA will take place in Ashgabat-Turkmenistan. The meeting focuses on “Deepening Connectivity and Expanding Trade through Investment Infrastructure and Improving Synergy.” This will be a timely opportunity for Afghanistan’s littoral and landlocked neighbours to take stock of the progress made since RECCA VI in Kabul. The meeting with many side events will allow the country-participants to discuss the challenges and bottlenecks, as well as financing and investment needs with respect to the priority projects in the key areas of energy; transport networks; trade and transit facilitation; communications; and business to business and labor support.
Moreover, in early December, the seventh Ministerial Conference of HOA-IP with its political, security, and economic confidence building measures (CBMs) implementation mechanism will take place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Afghanistan aims at deepening synergies and complementarities among the interconnected projects of the RECCA and HOA-IP, maximising their impact on sustainable development not only in Afghanistan but also throughout its surrounding regions. This should encourage the country-participants to assess their shared security and development needs and to bolster their engagement with Afghanistan accordingly, in order to initiate the implementation of the proposed projects with win-win benefits.
Considering these major opportunities for regional security and development cooperation, Afghanistan welcomes the new South Asia strategy of the United States, which helps address the challenge of state sponsorship of terrorism facing Afghanistan. This entails the complete closure of all safe sanctuaries in Pakistan where the Taliban get indoctrinated, trained, equipped, and deployed from to terrorise Afghanistan and destabilise the rest of the Indian Ocean region. The Afghan government strongly believes that the full execution of this new US strategy, in partnership with coastal and littoral states that share Afghanistan’s security and development interests, will not only help stabilise the country but also ensure security as a precondition for sustainable development across its surrounding regions.
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Ashraf Haidari was a Visiting Fellow at ORF. He also serves as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Afghanistan to Sri Lanka.Read More +