Securing Afghanistan Through North-South-South Cooperation

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Over the past thirteen years, Afghanistan has become a center of international cooperation. More than fifty countries, along with many international and regional organizations, have been partnering with the Afghan government to secure and develop Afghanistan. These countries and organizations represent both the Global South (developing & least developed countries) and the Global North (developed countries), in an unprecedented environment of international partnership to support the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan.

The convergence of South and North countries in Afghanistan speaks to the fact that the world has become increasingly interdependent, considering that international security and development imperatives are inextricably intertwined. Afghanistan’s recent history best illustrates this interconnected security and development landscape internationally.

As a South country, Afghanistan was used by North countries to fight their ideological Cold War against the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. Once the Cold War ended following the withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan in 1989, the country no longer mattered to the West. In the mind of Western countries, Afghanistan was too distant from them geographically and culturally, and it was now up to Afghanistan and its own region to address post-Cold War security and the development needs of the country.

In the 1990s, this negligence by the North of a devastated Afghanistan with a failed state provided an enabling environment for transnational illicit activities that crossed borders of South and North countries alike. And on 9/11, the spillover effects of a neglected Afghanistan eventually reached the shores of the United States with far-reaching negative implications for global security and economy.

In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, the major countries of North and South descended on Afghanistan for cooperation and assistance. Indeed, they grasped the realities of a changing world where seeking one’s security in the insecurity of others was no longer a rational policy choice in their best, long-term interest. Even though many countries have adjusted to a win-win paradigm in international affairs, there are still a number of countries that remain obsessed with and stuck in a zero-sum mentality, continuing to seek their short-term security in the insecurity of other states.

Unfortunately, despite ongoing international cooperation to secure and develop Afghanistan, the country remains vulnerable to zero-sum designs pursued by certain actors in the region. Bloodthirsty terrorists with safe sanctuaries in Pakistan daily infiltrate into Afghanistan and target its innocent people, including women and children. Just days before Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections on April 5, suicide terrorists attacked Serena Hotel at the heart of Kabul where they killed several innocent Afghan and international civilians. Among them were a young journalist along with his family and an election observer from Paraguay. Later, they launched suicide attacks on the offices of the Independent Election Commission in Kabul and targeted a number of Afghan police forces in eastern Afghanistan, where they had been preparing to provide protection for the elections.

Following these attacks designed to disrupt the first round of elections in Afghanistan, the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive in early May. Since then, they have carried out several terrorist attacks across Afghanistan, while threatening to target voters in the June 14 run-off presidential election between the two leading candidates.

The Afghan government has strongly condemned state sponsorship of terrorism in Afghanistan, which is in flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter and international humanitarian and human rights laws. But Afghans understand that mere words of condemnation have done little. That is why they have repeatedly called upon the major powers of the Global South to step up to the plate and take effective, collective measures against peace spoilers in their midst.

It’s obvious that unless Afghanistan is assisted in addressing the shared challenge of insecurity facing South Asia, the country and the region can hardly prosper together, for development can only take place in an environment of peace. This is a lesson that the Europeans learned the hard way, after the First and Second World Wars. Asia must learn from the Europeans and the many integrated mechanisms of cooperation, including the European Union, they have developed to ensure effective security and development cooperation with one another. These mechanisms underpin Europe’s sustainable peace and prosperity.

In terms of development aid effectiveness, Afghanistan has mixed experience with the North and South countries in the donor community. Both sides have certain advantages and certain disadvantages. India and the United States stand out as two good examples. As a developing country itself, India has significant expertise and experience in poverty reduction and development with relevant application in Afghanistan. Similarly, India’s approach to aid implementation is demand-driven, based on the specific needs of the Afghan government, in line with its development priorities.

However, India lacks the kind of aid resources the U.S. as a developed country has at its disposal, while the U.S. lacks India’s relevant development expertise and experience in the Afghan context. Consequently, the U.S. government has relied on private contractors, which often waste aid resources and have proven counterproductive to the Afghan-U.S. shared objective of helping Afghanistan become self-reliant.

While Afghanistan strongly supports South-South development cooperation, Afghans believe that in a globalized world where interdependencies between the Global South and the Global North continue to increase only, we must begin thinking in terms of North-South-South cooperation. How does such necessary cooperation work in practice? Afghanistan’s experience is instructive.

We propose a modality of North-South-South cooperation where developed countries closely partner with the developing world to assist least developed and war-torn countries like Afghanistan. This is win-win for everyone, with the targeted beneficiaries benefiting the most in terms of aid effectiveness. Just an example, for the cost of flying ten Afghan professionals all the way to the U.S. or Europe for training, more than 100 Afghans can be trained much more cost-effectively in India or Indonesia.

Indeed, such cooperation has already begun. And a number of institutions of the Afghan government have benefited from technical training workshops and seminars in India, funded by developed countries of the North. Still, there is much more potential for the expansion of North-South-South development cooperation in contexts like Afghanistan. The Afghan government looks forward to working with its South and North nation-partners to identify areas of cooperation where their interests converge and to make the best of each other’s aid resources and technical capabilities to secure the future of Afghanistan in a more peaceful and prosperous world.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in India. He formerly served as Afghanistan’s deputy assistant national security adviser, as well as deputy chief of mission of the Afghan Embassy in the United States.

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