Conflict and suffering has again sadly being dominating international headlines. The Middle East is engulfed in a struggle for decency against the so-called Islamic State.
The rise of this abhorrent extremist group that has caused immense suffering for thousands of people in parts of Syria and Iraq is perhaps the biggest threat to global peace and stability. There is a real risk that these two countries will be permanently torn apart and the Islamic State becomes a platform for exporting violence, extremism and instability across the entire region and beyond. Already Libya and Nigeria have become victims to this warped ideology, demonstrating that Islamic State is not just a Middle Eastern problem.
As the international community considers how to respond to this threat, these terrible developments must serve as a sobering reminder of the fate of Afghanistan if the world again walks away from the troubled country, as it did in the 1990s. We must ensure this does not happen.
Kazakhstan, together with its neighbours and the international community all share a common objective to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism, nor a threat to regional stability. This gives us a common purpose: to build the capacity of the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces, and to give Afghans the opportunities to build a stable and prosperous future.
Over a decade on from the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been significantly weakened, and today’s Afghanistan is unrecognisable from 10 years ago. However the pull-out of NATO troops means that an enduring international commitment to Afghanistan is required. Unfortunately nearly 4,000 Afghan civilians died in 2014, making it the deadliest year yet in the conflict. This must act as a wakeup call to the world.
If the international community turns its back on the country and its long-suffering people, there is a real risk that it could descend again into outright chaos and that instability and violence will spill increasingly over its borders.
No nation is immune from this threat. Up to now, extremists have struggled to gain a foothold in Kazakhstan. Despite a very diverse population, we have built a moderate and tolerant society where all can make a contribution. The Kazakh government has been closely monitoring the situation regarding religious extremism and drug trafficking out of Afghanistan, two issues that can hurt our own nation.
The Kazakh government has also been working hard, and rightly so, to counter the distorted message of the extremists in our society. And it has also stepped up direct economic and humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Kazakhstan has allocated $2.38 million for social services projects in Afghanistan, sent more than $17 million worth of emergency food assistance, and implemented a $50 million project to train Afghan students at Kazakh universities.
But the challenge requires a concerted and coordinated international effort to help re-establish and reintegrate Afghanistan into the region. It is an effort that Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours must help shape and lead. After all, we in the region have the most to gain from success and the most to lose from failure. Not surprisingly, regional governments are already discussing how Afghanistan’s efforts can do more together to help rebuild it as well as improve regional security against terrorism and the drugs trade.
The long-term solution must be to accelerate the growth of the entire regional economy to spread employment and prosperity in Afghanistan and all neighbouring countries. This will deny the extremists the anger and despair required for their divisive message to take root.
Consistent efforts in this area are being taken by organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which brings together four Central Asian nations plus Russia and China.
Through other initiatives like the U.S.-proposed ‘New Silk Road’, which aims to integrate the Central Asian countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan with Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, there is hope to integrate Afghanistan into the wider region.
The positive impact, of course, of the ‘New Silk Road’ will be felt far beyond Afghanistan or Central Asia. Our region is seriously laying claim to be the next economic frontier. Rich in energy and natural wealth and strategically positioned between Europe and the fast-growing economies of the east, improved connections can provide a much-needed boost to global growth.
We cannot halt the powerful forces which are changing our world. But through increased co-operation with our partners, they can be channelled for the benefit of all. Afghanistan’s people are counting for the world’s powers to stop their disputes, and instead unite to battle a common foe. We have all borne the costs of decades of conflict in Afghanistan and, if we fail to come together and turn good intentions into positive action, we will see the chaos engulfing the Middle East repeated in Afghanistan.