Despite bombings and the lingering Taliban insurgency, Afghanistan is showing signs of slowly integrating with regional as well as international economic organizations.
This week has been one of Afghanistan’s bloodiest, as suicide bombings shook the capital and southern Afghanistan. In one attack in Kandahar province, a suicide bomber rammed a car laden with explosives into a convoy, killing three Afghan civilians and wounding four others. U.S. military spokesman Lt.-Colonel Jerry O’Hara said initial reports indicated that U.S.-led troops were providing security for the convoy, but no soldiers were wounded and no equipment damaged (Kabul Radio, November 16).
Earlier in the week, two car bombs in eastern Kabul killed one NATO peacekeeper and at least eight Afghans. The explosions took place within 90 minutes of each other. Another car reportedly speeding towards British soldiers in the area ignored warnings, and all three occupants were killed by gunfire. It is not clear who might have carried out the latest attacks. The Taliban claimed responsibility for a September suicide bombing in Kabul that took place on the same road to Jalalabad. At least 12 people were killed and a number of others injured outside an Afghan army base (Anis, November 15).
This week also brought more positive developments for the economic and financial status of Afghanistan as it prepares to resume its transit role along the ancient Silk Road. On November 8, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the 49th hereditary Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, inaugurated Kabul’s first five-star hotel. The Kabul Serena Hotel, a former landmark in the central part of Kabul was renovated and upgraded by the Aga Khan Development Network to meet the growing demands of international travelers (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 9).
One day later, Afghanistan hosted an Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) conference at the new hotel. Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey established this regional organization in 1985 to promote economic, technical, and cultural cooperation among the member states. The ten Islamic, mostly Central Asian, countries present (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) sought to slash tariffs and freeing up trade in the region once spanned by the Silk Road.
Opening the conference, Hedayat Amin Arsala, a senior advisor to the Karzai and the Afghan minister of commerce, said, “The government of Afghanistan remains fully committed to deeper regional integration through ECO” (ECO Press Release, November 10). Arsala also announced that Afghanistan had begun the accession process for the World Trade Organization (Xinhuanet, November 16).
Finally, and perhaps the most significant development of the past week, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, meeting in Bangladesh, decided to admit Afghanistan as its newest member. SAARC was established in December 1985 to, among other things, provide “a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust, and understanding…[and]…to promote the welfare of the peoples of South Asia and to improve their quality of life through accelerated economic growth, social progress, and cultural development in the region.”
“We are delighted to welcome Afghanistan to our group,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on November 13. He added, “This is an appropriate recognition of the long-standing ties of culture and history that Afghanistan shares with us.”
Afghanistan becomes the eighth member of the 20-year old group, which counts Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka as founding members (Daily Outlook Afghanistan, November 14).
Afghanistan currently faces two opposing dynamics: global terrorism versus regional integration. The first trend has left a trail of death and destruction for over a decade and remains determined to continue its heinous deeds. The second, which strives to improve the lives of people, is struggling to expand and strengthen. Which of the two trends will prevail is a matter that largely will be determined by the collective efforts of the world community. As far as Afghanistan’s leaders are concerned, local observers believe, their overwhelming preference is for the country’s total integration into the international economic and political system.