In the 11th Silk Road Mayors Forum (SRMF) in Iran last September, the World Citizens Organization (WCO) and members of the SRMF unanimously selected the historic Kabul City to host the next SRMF on October 20, 2017. This rightfully recognized Afghanistan’s ancient status as the heir of the Silk Road civilization and a regional intersection that connects people, businesses, cultures, civilizations, and consequently invites friendship and cooperation. It also demonstrates increased international confidence in the administrative capacity of the Afghan government under President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
Thanks to the ongoing implementation of reforms undertaken by the National Unity Government of Afghanistan, the Kabul municipality has been transformed from a decaying institution to one that is led by a group of well-educated and dedicated young professionals. Their merit-based appointment to positions of complex responsibility has resulted in continued reduction of corrupt practices that used to permeate the municipality, as well as in designing and building roads and municipal facilities across the Kabul City.
In turn, the reform- and results-oriented leadership of the municipality has lost no time in establishing contacts and working relationships with municipalities and partner organizations across the region and the world. This has enabled the city to regain public trust and respect, while building confidence with its counterparts abroad to initiate win-win projects for support and co-implementation.
The SRMF in Kabul will bring together mayors, diplomats, and representatives from the countries on the Silk Road and major aid agencies to discuss issues of mutual interest, including financial, diplomatic, and cultural affairs. It too would allow them an opportunity to exchange views and lessons to be learned from their relevant experience in municipal management, city planning, and opening their cities and countries to broader tourism and business opportunities.
Aside from these exchanges, the forum will give participants an opportunity to see for themselves the situation in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, terrorists and their external sponsors work against the hard-earned gains of the Afghan people and feed global public misinformation about Afghanistan. However, since 2001, the Afghan people have come a long way, making notable progress towards the long-term institutionalization of peace, pluralism, and prosperity, in close partnership with the international community.
To consolidate their hard-earned gains, the Afghan people are heartened by the United States’ new conditions-based strategy, which President Donald Trump recently announced, to secure peace and prosperity in Afghanistan. Success in this common endeavor will not only allow the country to realize its massive natural resources potential for revenue generation and economic growth but also enable Afghanistan to serve as the roundabout of the modern Silk Road initiatives to create and spread prosperity across Eurasia.
“As we look to our neighbors in the South and Central Asia, we are simultaneously strengthening national, global and regional connectivity,” President Ghani told world leaders in the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in late September. He added that “Afghanistan will again become a multi-faceted hub in the 21st century–for transport, energy, water and mining–for the benefit of the entire region’s economic prosperity and security.” The president highlighted the progress Afghanistan has already been making: “Transmission lines for the Central Asia-South Asia power project are under construction. The Turkmen railway has reached our border. The TAPI natural gas pipeline is under construction.”
In addition to networking, the forum will allow participants to learn further about the above projects and business opportunities associated with them and Afghanistan’s numerous virgin markets. For example, even though the Afghan government has registered more than $10.4 billion as initial capital for investments since 2002, the actual investments could reach $25 to 30 billion in the following key sectors: agriculture, mining, manufacturing, services, construction, and energy.
Last year, the Afghan government hosted a conference on “Invest in Afghanistan” where it drew the attention of domestic and foreign business representatives to the following potential investment opportunities in Afghanistan:
- 85–90 percent of the Afghan population lives in rural areas. They are engaged in the agriculture sector, which plays a vital role in the livelihood of 76 percent of the total population.
- More than $300 million annually flows out of Afghanistan in pursuit of medical treatment abroad. At the same time, more than $800 million worth of pharmaceuticals is annually imported to Afghanistan.
- Afghanistan currently produces 600 million watts of hydropower electricity. But there is a huge potential to produce up to 23,000 MW of hydropower electricity.
- In the past decade, Afghanistan has experienced unprecedented growth in its construction industry. The construction sector has contributed 7–10 percent to GDP in recent years.
- According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Afghanistan possesses minerals worth $1 trillion, whose value the Afghan government estimates at $3 trillion.
- Public procurement forms 19 percent of GDP and 50 percent of the national budget.
- More than 90 percent of consumer goods in Afghanistan are imported from regional countries and beyond.
All told, Kabul City is potentially one of the region’s major, dynamic business hubs with several million consumers, which can open many doors for international investment and cooperation across the sectors pointed out above. President Ghani will open the 2017 Silk Road Mayors Forum, as the Kabul municipality, supported by the rest of the Afghan government, looks forward to welcoming and hosting mayors from countries on the Silk Road and delegates from the private sector and aid organizations soon.
A Visiting Fellow at Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies (AISS), M. Ashraf Haidari is the Director-General of Policy & Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and formerly served as the country’s Deputy Chief of Mission to India. Prior to this, he was Afghanistan’s Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor, as well as Afghan Chargé d’Affaires to the United States. He tweets @MAshrafHaidari.