On Oct. 18, Recep Tayyip Erdogan became the first Turkish president to visit Afghanistan in 46 years. He was also the first president to meet with Ashraf Ghani, the new president of Afghanistan after his inauguration. The two leaders signed a Strategic Partnership and Friendship Agreement to further improve relations between Turkey and Afghanistan. As Afghans had the first democratic transfer of power in September, there is hope for the future of this wounded country. "Afghanistan wants to wake up from a 40-year nightmare," said Ashraf Ghani, referring to war, internecine fighting, corruption, opium trade, radicalization, poverty and illiteracy that have shaped and destroyed the lives of at least two generations in Afghanistan. The former president Hamid Karzai had his own ups and downs during his term and may not have lived up to the expectations. But whatever legacy he left behind, the new team needs to move forward.
Afghanistan is a land-locked country and does not have rich natural resources. Geography forces Afghans to unite and work together. But it is also the same geography that creates division and war. The new political structure in the country may present an opportunity for unity, transparency and efficacy. With Ashraf Ghani as president, Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive officer and Rashid Dostum as first deputy president, Afghans have a chance to form a national unity government. The ethnic diversity of the Afghan human geography has been grossly misused and violated. The new leadership can turn it into an asset for the country.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its economic woes are not easy to overcome. The foreign aid, of which Ghani was critical before he was elected, creates dilemmas for the country. On the one hand, Afghanistan needs about $6.5 billion (TL 14.63 billion) foreign aid annually. On the other hand, foreign aid money causes corruption, inefficacy and dependence. As a former World Bank economist, President Ghani will have to establish a new economic system to create jobs and income equality. Attracting foreign investment and generating local production need security and stability. Outside Kabul, the majority of the Afghan people live in rural areas. This is where most radical groups including the Taliban drive their recruitments. A new and comprehensive rural development plan will be needed to bring a certain degree of stability and prosperity to these areas. This is another colossal task.
Afghanistan's relationship with Pakistan is another area that requires delicate diplomacy and creative leadership. Afghans and Pakistanis blame each other for the troubles along their borders. The reality is that neither country has full control over their borderlands and admittedly they are among the most difficult terrains to manage in the world. Putting aside the blame game, the two countries need to work together to solve the problems of border security, radicalization, tribal sensitivities and the presence of al-Qaida and Taliban on both sides of the border. Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a chance to make this relationship work. He has already made a number of gestures and taken steps to secure the borders while dealing with Pakistan's own problem of radical groups.
A strong partnership between President Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif is also needed to address the Taliban problem - a problem that has crippled an entire nation for too long. Obviously, there is no magic formula here. Harder days may be ahead as NATO's ISAF missions end this year and a much smaller Resolute Support Mission, to be comprised of about 12,000 foreign troops, begins by 2015. Taliban is said to be waiting to start a new wave of attacks once the new mission takes over. The Afghan security forces, totaling over 300,000 soldiers and police, are already largely responsible for peace and security in the country. They will have to be much more effective, equipped and disciplined against terrorist attacks. Talking to the Taliban, as Hamid Karzai tried, remains a tricky and elusive goal. But all experts agree on some sort of a political settlement. This, too, will require strong leadership, patience and inter-Afghan unity.
Turkey has invested heavily in Afghanistan. Turkey's expenditure on military missions, technical aid for schools, hospitals, roads and similar projects amount to more than $1 billion. The special bond between Turkish and Afghan peoples is a vital asset for the future relations of both countries. Turkey has completed around 800 small and large projects in Afghanistan. In addition, Turkey pledged $60 million over the next three years to help pay the expenses of the new Afghan security forces. Turkey will also rebuild the home of Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi in Balh and establish a major university named after him in Kabul.
In regards to Afghan-Pakistan relations, Turkey established a trilateral mechanism to help improve relations between the two. This mechanism has helped create political trust and confidence between the leaders of the two countries. Turkey will host the next Turkey-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral meeting once the new Afghan government is formed by the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Afghanistan has a chance to turn a new page in its troubled modern history. We should all help make it a reality.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey