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Afghanistan's Next Steps
Afghanistan is in the midst of a transformation that is redefining its role in the region and the world. A national ring road is almost complete. Thousands of schools and clinics have been refurbished. The capital enjoys a regular power supply. Women are claiming a new role in public and professional life. Entrepreneurship is flourishing. And, perhaps most important, there is a sense of optimism as the country emerges into modernity.
But the job is not yet done. While Afghanistan has made impressive progress toward becoming a more stable and independent nation with a viable economy, the departure of foreign troops in 2014 places the country at a critical crossroads.
With the country assuming full responsibility for its own security, development, and governance, its future will hinge heavily on continuing support from the international community. Such support will be pivotal in Afghanistan's efforts to build sustainable commercial infrastructure, and grapple with weak governance, rampant gender inequality, few jobs, and endemic poverty.
The path the country eventually treads will be determined to a large degree by the commitments the international community made in Tokyo on July 8 to pledge resources for Afghanistan for the years ahead. The challenges are immense, particularly in a country where one in three people still subsist below the poverty line, and the threat of chronic insecurity and civil war remains high.
For a secure and sustainable future, Afghanistan needs modern infrastructure, sound basic services, good governance, and efficient institutions. In order to expand trade within the region and beyond, significant investments must be made to turn this landlocked and isolated economy into one that is land-linked and integrated with its neighbors.
Strategically positioned at the intersection of vast markets to the west, east, and south, a stable Afghanistan could potentially attract billions of dollars worth of trade. Its rich mineral and hydrocarbon deposits and strategic location at the heart of the ancient Silk Road hold the promise of a better life for the Afghan people and increased stability for the entire Central Asian and South Asian regions.
In May, India and Pakistan signed landmark gas deals with Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding on long-term gas cooperation with Turkmenistan. These measures are important steps towards realizing the ambitious Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline.
The pipeline will provide substantial income for Afghanistan, provide the country with a dependable energy supply to address chronic power shortages, and also bind the region into an energy-security pact that places regional peace and stability high up the agenda for South and Central Asia.
For Afghanistan to fully benefit from its position as a vital lifeline to critical global markets for landlocked Central Asian nations, the country must become better connected to its neighbors.
Since December 2011, the country's first railway has boosted regional trade and facilitated the flow of humanitarian assistance by connecting Afghanistan to Uzbekistan's expansive rail network and to regional markets in Europe and Asia. Future links are planned to other parts of the region, including Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. Many other transport projects are under way or have been completed to improve the region's road, rail, and air connections.
Clearly, change is possible. But Afghanistan's continuing transformation is in jeopardy unless donors remain in solidarity with this nation.
We at the Asian Development Bank took the opportunity in Tokyo to pledge our long-term support, building on the more than $2.8 billion we have committed for Afghanistan's critical infrastructure in the last decade with an additional $1.2 billion indicative assistance program through 2016. We call on the international community to join in solidarity with Afghanistan as it faces this most crucial juncture.
By remaining engaged and fully committed to the country's development, despite the global economic uncertainty, the international community can turn a 'work in progress' into a stable, self-reliant country at the crossroads of culture and commerce.