Even though the shadows over the prospects for peace in Afghanistan are darkening by the day, there is great hope from all sides that the US-Taliban peace deal will reach its intended objective.
If and when the peace prevails in Afghanistan, Taliban are more than likely to be an important part of the governing mix.
Through their policy statements the Taliban have been assuring that: 1. They don’t have any extra-territorial ambitions against any of their neighbours including the countries in Central Asia; 2. They fully support and will protect the infrastructure and industrial projects including the TAPI corridor, CASA-1000, roads and railway lines, and the industrial projects jointly implemented with the foreign partners; 3. They don’t have any foreign fighters among their ranks and will not allow any foreign militants to operate from and in the territory of Afghanistan.
They have also said that they will ensure safe transit of people and cargo through the territory of Afghanistan and come down hard on drug trafficking.
They are also known for their aversion to bribery and corruption.
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A credible way to verify the veracity of their words is to look at their behavior from 1996 to 2001 when they were in control of nearly 90% territory of Afghanistan.
During their period in power:
- There was nearly zero production of poppy in Afghanistan in 2001.
- Because of their brutal but swift system of justice, there were negligible incidents of disruption of the flow of transit passengers or cargo across the areas under their control.
- During this period, the Taliban did not breach the borders of any of the Central Asian countries. The action came very close to the borders of Tajikistan but never spilled into the territory of Tajikistan.
- Whatever narcotics came out of Afghanistan during that period were mostly produced in the labs located in the areas under the control of the Northern Alliance.
- Even though the total annual budget of Afghanistan during their period in power was just about USD 85 million, they started repairing the Herat-Kandahar highway from this shoestring budget.
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Assuming that the Taliban would stick to their commitments, there would still be a number of issues that must be resolved between Central Asia and Afghanistan.
For any issues related to security and conflict prevention, we already have two excellent organs of the United Nations – UNAMA and UNRCCA. With close cooperation between them, which exists already, the resources are available for amicable solution of most of the potential issues.
The division of shared water resources is a question that will raise its head sooner or later. Amudarya River and Murghab/Harirud Rivers originate from Afghanistan. When the conditions are right Afghanistan as upper riparian will start drawing its due share of water from these rivers. This should not actually be a big problem because only about 11.84% of the area of Afghanistan (nearly 7.7 million hectares) is arable. There are many other rivers besides those shared with Central Asia that can feed the agricultural lands. Moreover, with the water economization technologies it should be possible to do more with less water in both Afghanistan and Central Asia.
For the foreseeable future Afghanistan will remain an agricultural country. As such, the only things it would be able to export are dry fruit and some food products, and some minerals. This would not be sufficient to make the country economically self-sustaining. In order to become a truly sovereign country there would be need to unlock the full transit potential of Afghanistan. This is the shortest path to prosperity for Afghanistan. At present the use of the Afghan territory as transit space between the regions is hostage to a political agenda. With the Taliban in a position to make the decisions, this may possibly change.
The most important thing for Central Asia is lasting and robust peace in Afghanistan. /// nCa, 5 March 2020