Eurasian Medium Forum Starts with a Focus on Afghanistan’s Future

ASTANA – The pressing regional issue of the impact of the United States and NATO troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 was the key subject in focus at the first plenary session of the 11th Eurasian Media Forum in Astana on April 25.

Speakers of the panel session included Iranian presidential candidate Hooshang Amirahmadi, Minister – Counsellor of the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mohammad Yahya Maroofi, Kyrgyz Parliament Member and Chairman of the International Relations Committee Kanybek Imanaliyev, U.S. journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner Roy Gutman, Russian political scientist Yuri Solozobov and Al Jazeera International presenter and session moderator Stephen Cole. They shared their views on the potential scenarios and impacts of the coalition forces withdrawal for Afghanistan, the neighbouring post-Soviet republics, and the Caspian and Central Asian region as a whole.

Earlier, at the opening of the event, Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev told approximately 500 forum participants, “I absolutely do not believe that the countdown has already been turned on to bring our region to some sort of an ‘X hour’ in 2014 following the end of an active phase of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) mission in Afghanistan… I am sure that nothing critical will happen.”

“First, some people do not see or do not want to see the changed realities of our region… Central Asia is not a suburb or ‘no man’s land,’ but a new dynamic sub-region of Eurasia and the world. Kazakhstan and other states of Central Asia have proven their capability to sovereign and positive development,” President Nazarbayev said.

“Second, treating countries of Central Asia as objects of foreign influence without taking into account their national interests is nothing more than a demonstration of geopolitical shortsightedness,” he continued.

“Third, Central Asia is a civilizational community of nations with a great history, a worthy present and great prospects for the future. Fourth, it is necessary to see the difference between the regional situation at the turn of the 21st century and what’s happening now. In Central Asia, there is a multilayered and multidimensional system of regional security projected along the main geopolitical vectors,” said Nazarbayev, stressing the importance of a balanced security system.

“Fifth, I do not agree with estimates made by those who claim that the international coalition’s mission in Afghanistan presumably has not fulfilled its goals. The immediate security threats there have been substantially lowered and localized,” the president continued.

“Yes, there are problems in terms of Afghan internal political settlement. Yet, progress is evident here. I have always highlighted the importance of measures being taken by the global community aimed at post-conflict peace building and Afghanistan’s economic development. Kazakhstan is ready to provide the necessary service to organize a new international platform to effectively solve that issue,” the president concluded.

Kyrgyz Parliament Member Imanaliyev gave his thoughts on Afghanistan’s economic status in the region. “During the last 40 years, we got used to examining Afghanistan from a military or political point of view. But Afghanistan is interesting from an economic perspective and is seeking World Trade Organization membership. In the future, Afghanistan can become a transit hub between Pakistan and Central Asia countries. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are participating in this project and project CASA 1000 hopes to facilitate the transmission of electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Pakistan through Afghanistan. Thus, today, Afghanistan needs humanitarian aid and investments more. In reality, only Chinese companies work in the country and build schools and hospitals there,” Imanaliyev said.

Iranian presidential candidate Amirahmadi also gave his views on the withdrawal. “I believe Iran does take a positive view of the withdrawal. The occupation of Afghanistan has gone too long and has gone too far. The time has come for the international forces to withdraw… Afghanistan is in a position to defend itself and the region is in a position to maintain a stable Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban has become a little bit stronger in recent years because the occupation has gone on too long,” said Amirahmadi, who earlier emphasized that he was expressing his views and not those of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Yuri Solozobov from Russia, said, “I agree with President Nazarbayev that there won’t be any global catastrophe or domino effect (after the withdrawal). I believe that this issue has become a self-developing psycho-virus for the media sort of a ‘Mayan Calendar’… Russian experts think threats will remain and include three dimensions: the threat of the transferring of military equipment to one of the regional countries, meaning Uzbekistan… which could potentially contribute to a war in Central Asia over borders; the other is that Russia is ready to establish a collective security body with its allies, which will assist weak countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan… This experience may help Afghanistan. I want to recall that from 60 percent to 80 percent of infrastructure in the state is destroyed. As President Nazarbayev has said, people in Afghanistan have held nothing but rifles for the last thirty years, thus peace practices should replace war practices. It is a very complex and difficult problem… And the last threat is the refugees issue, this issue might not come from Afghanistan, those refugees could be from other countries of the region, but we should consider this pressing problem.”

American journalist Gutman also added his thoughts. “What I question is: what country do Americans leave behind? Are there Afghan military forces, for example, who are up to the job of providing sufficient security so the country can be stable? … There is a belief, at least among the journalists on the ground (in Afghanistan), that the Afghan national army may be able to take over security or other significant responsibilities where the American military forces have played a significant role,” he said. “Though, there is great, great skepticism about the Afghan national police because they are not sufficiently trained or sufficiently paid, they do not show loyalty. And that represents a genuine issue for the country. You know, police are absolutely essential for maintaining law and order in local areas and if they go over to the Taliban, the whole balance shifts in ways we cannot predict.”

Minister – Counsellor Maroofi said Afghan President Khamid Karzai will stick to holding democratic and transparent elections next year. He also noted that President Karzai regularly participates in bilateral and multilateral discussions on Afghanistan at the international and regional level. “Afghanistan can fight instability. It’s not eminent,” he concluded.

All in all, the speaker stressed that Afghanistan’s issue should be solved by peaceful measures because historically no international occupation forces have succeeded in the state. And, more importantly, Afghanistan is ready to develop stability itself with the assistance of neighbouring countries who need to provide that support, Maroofi said.