Changing realities of Afghanistan — by Dr Manzur Ejaz

Afghanistan’s political economy is drastically changing. The investments by China, India, Central Asian countries and Iran are changing the future prospects of Afghanistan. Furthermore, the Afghans’ migration to Western countries and socio-political experiences of millions of refugees in Pakistan, Iran, India and other countries are going to impact the future orientation of the Afghan society.

Expatriate remittances have played a great role in supporting, or some say sustaining, Pakistan’s fledging economy. If this is true, then Afghanistan’s expatriate remittances in 2006, around $ 3.4 billion, are proportionately much higher than Pakistan’s $ 6.4 billion because its population of 28 million is one-sixth of its neighbour’s 180 million: on per capita basis, Afghanistan gets $ 121 against Pakistan’s $ 35 as expatriate remittance. Like Vietnam and South Korea, once occupied by the US, the Afghan expatriate remittances are going to grow much faster than Pakistan. Therefore, the Afghan economy will be helped to sustain itself by a large amount of foreign remittances in difficult times.

Furthermore, several countries are making substantial investments in Afghanistan. For example, China has invested $ 3 billion in the Aynak copper mine and is in the process of constructing of a new railroad between Afghanistan and its Xinjiang province, and an electricity station. The trade linkages are likely to grow and China would like to invest in other key industrial inputs like coal, iron, aluminium and many others that the country is endowed with: Afghanistan has large deposits of natural gas, petroleum, coal, copper, chromite, talc, barites, sulphur, lead, zinc, iron ore, salt, and precious and semiprecious stones. Consequently, to protect its economic interests and control a 1990s-like insurgency in Uighur province, China will be least tolerant of the Taliban in this area.

After the construction of a half-mile long bridge over the Pyanj River, the trade between Tajikistan and Afghanistan has increased by 700 percent. After opening of the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, Afghanistan’s trade with the Central Asian countries has increased manifold. Russia is also planning to link Afghanistan with Europe through rail, which already goes up to Uzbekistan.

Most of these investments and trade linkages are taking place in northern and western Afghanistan. Eventually, these parts of Afghanistan will become a separate economic unit with new prosperity and fresh world outlook. If religious militancy continues, it will be limited to southern and eastern Afghanistan bordering Pakistan.

Even southern Afghanistan will have a new outlook because of a new trade route to the Arabian Sea. India completed a 135-mile long road from Nimroz to Iran’s Chabahar seaport. This means that landlocked Afghanistan will not be dependent on Karachi’s port. As a matter of fact, Chabahar seaport will much closer to the major Afghan cities than Karachi. Sooner or later, the closer seaport will be preferred over a very long route, resulting in less dependence over Pakistan.

Besides these economic developments, the Afghan society is changing very fast. A very long war has destroyed many traditional professions, forcing the people to change their lifestyles. For example, animal husbandry or herd breeding, once the profession of a large portion of Afghan population, has decreased a whopping 80 percent. Similarly, many other traditional means of living have changed due to continuing war.

The Afghan mindset is in the process of transformation. Many recent visitors to Afghanistan have indicated that refugees who have returned back have brought new sets of ideas that they were exposed to while living abroad. They have picked up experiences of living under relatively modern states where democratic ideals are pursued. For example, the Afghan refugees living in Pakistan have had new experiences of yearning for democratic values, equality and the right to protest even under military dictatorships. Therefore, Taliban or no Taliban, Pakistan has to deal with a changed Afghanistan. Pakistan will remain relevant to Afghanistan only if it becomes a well-governed modern state with an expanding economic potential.

The writer can be reached at

Source: Daily Times



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