Making predictions often comes with a degree of risk.
For Afghanistan and the wider region, this risk is considerably high as we face a number of substantial societal issues and although our political leaders have a vested interest in “miracle work” they are not acting in a vacuum.
Afghanistan and the surrounding area remains one of the most insecure regions on earth, and what occurs in our region is largely distinct from other parts of the world. If one were to include the Middle East, most of the world’s failed states exist in our surrounding region such as: Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, Pakistan and my country, Afghanistan.
Whatever the future holds for us, it will arguably be influenced by these six elements:
- The silenced majority
- State-sponsored terrorism
- Political Islam Theory
- Opposition to rationality
- Economical potential
- Superpower intervention
Many rulers in our region have risen to power as a result of external forces, monarchical bloodlines or military upheaval, and once in power have predominantly excluded the citizenry within their particular nations from playing important societal roles, whilst simultaneously exploiting public funds for personal gain. Most of these governments have lost legitimacy in the eyes of its people and the international community. The mass media has brought an opportunity for locals to be in contact with the outside world, being aware of their ideas and activities that form the basis of the formation of civil society and social activism.
To combat this, some authoritarian regimes have attempted to place restrictions on internet usage, media and tourism, in an effort to disconnect locals from the outside world over fear that they may become more aware of the political rulers’ negligible activities. Furthermore, some rulers have gone as far as to decree their book to be “God’s book,” and some have even claimed prophet-hood as a means of further asserting control over the populace. Despite this, locals, in many cases, have begun to recognize that their governments are disregarding their collective rights; thus, serving as the reason for a growing lack of government legitimacy – a factor that may inevitably challenge the existence of government and may even bring the ruling regimes to the brink of collapse.
State Sponsored Terrorism
There are a number of terrorists groups active in Afghanistan and in the wider region which are being equipped, financed and trained by other countries in the region for the sole purpose of waging a war in Afghanistan to preserve their long-term interests in the country. These groups have great financial and human resources in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Iraq, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Syria and Lebanon and their formation and support, in most cases, can be traced to Pakistan and Iran and in some cases, the United States (former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton blamed the US government for creating former Mujahidin who fought against the Russian invasion in Afghanistan).
The existence of these terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been the main reason for state failure. In some countries, the local citizens have welcomed the emergence of these terrorist cells with the hope that they will remove the authoritarian regimes. But these groups tend to quickly lose the hearts and minds of the local populations as a result of fanatical ideology, harsh rules, or, in some cases the rebranding of the cell’s identity in a manner that is several times more extreme than the predecessors.
Allegedly, the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime in Iraq was in the interest of Iran. However, it has since shifted the broader international focus to Iran, which may ultimately play into Western interests. Pakistan, in the past, was viewed in the region to have the upper hand with respect to creating covert and overt militant groups, but it appears as though the emergence of ISIL in the region neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan has since hindered its position. In addition, as a result of blowback, Pakistan has been fighting militant groups within its community for the last 10 years – groups that were invented by the Pakistani government for the sole purpose of controlling others. In my opinion, one of the main reasons why Pakistan is encouraging peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government is due to fear of the appearance of ISIL in the region and the mobilization of Pakistani extremist groups under the ISIL banner.
As a result, I predict that the extremist groups formed by many authoritarian governments in the region will ultimately contribute to greater regional instability in the next 10 years.
Political Islam Theory
Political Islam Theory has a long history with deep roots in the Arab World. However, while the theory is often linked prior to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, in actuality it became rooted during the Taliban regime. During the Taliban regime, Political Islam Theory was spread to many countries in Central Asia in an attempt to overthrow several governments but, after the collapse of the Taliban regime, these movements have since been silenced by local governments.
However, a new incident in the region might ultimately be able to reignite them. If reignited, they could create a serious problem for local governments, and some may even collapse. Despite this, it is doubtful that they would be able to grip control over an entire country like the Taliban had before 9/11, but they may be able to form a government in smaller provinces. ISIL is a new conduit for the implementation of Political Islam Theory, and has already been active in Afghanistan. As a result of their emergence, it is possible that the Taliban will divide into several groups; one will join the Afghan government, another will join ISIL and other will take a third path. ISIL has already raised its flags on the Afghan-Turkmenistan border, which is bad news for Central Asian Countries. The birth of ISIL or other similar groups will pave the way for even more groups across the region that have been quelled by local governments, but may be motivated by Political Islam movements, as it may be viewed as the only way to get rid of authoritarian regimes.
As a result, in the next 10 years, there will be a strong fight for political freedom but control of this fight might ultimately be in the hands of the followers of Political Islam.
Opposition to Rationality
As the people of this region continue to feel injustice, and given that they do not know of logical ways to explain their problems or have ways of finding solutions to them, lots of people will look for increasingly illogical and desperate ways of remedying their grievances. This means that in the next 10 years the number of people who are opposed to rationality will increase, and people who are following common sense will decrease. Instead of thinking about possible productive solutions to their problems, they will spend too much time blaming one another. They will expend more energy on complaining, and become more apathetic, rather than remaining active. They will continue to rely too heavily on the United States (US) for their future, for the belief is that if the US wants this region to be prosperous in one night it could make it so, but if the United States does not want it, then it is not possible.
Most of the people in the region instead of searching for logical solutions to their problems will relieve themselves instead by turning to their history and the stories of their forefathers’ heroism. Searching for heroes in history and hiding in the past will further weaken the drive for progress and future success in the scientific studies of history and anthropology. This weakness will continue to hinder efforts to solve the problems of my nation. In the next ten years, in the sense of opposition to rationality, the foundations of modernization such as; freedom, equality and dialogue will be seen as Western political and cultural impositions and the remains of colonial culture. The study of science that has already been viewed upon poorly and will worsen; certainly some regimes will invest in weapons and military technology, but in general scientific development will remain very weak. If rationality and dialogue are not respected in a society, if scientific thought is weak, science will not be promoted in that society and in turn it cannot help promote the society itself.
In conclusion, over the next 10 years I do not expect any success for science in the region.
Afghanistan and the wider region has remained on the frontline of super-power conflicts for the last few centuries. Afghanistan alone has been invaded several times in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries by Western powers and Eastern powers. It is possible that any dispute in Afghanistan and in the region can find a logical settlement if the super-powers stop intervening in the region. This region has become the most insecure after the NATO US lead invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The Taliban and its ideological allies remain a threat to the Central Asian countries that have ambitions to overthrow the Russian-aligned governments and the US also wants to see these authoritarian and Russian-allied governments changed and the promotion of democratic governance.
However, Russia sees this move as a threat to its national security and in this context, the Taliban and the US pose similar threats to Russian interests in the region. To counter this threat Russia has create several regional and international organizations in order to keep these countries firmly within its sphere of influence. China too is worrying about the ongoing US presence in Afghanistan and believes that the East Turkistan movement in Uyghur in the Xinjiang province of China, which wants to separate from China, is supported by the West and the US as a means to curb China’s political and economic development and influence in the region.
Iran sees the US presence in Afghanistan as a threat to its national security and therefore reserves the right to fight the US in Afghanistan. Pakistan is also worried by the US and NATO presence in Afghanistan and believes that the Pakistani Taliban movement is supported by the West, while on the other hand, the US and its allies blame Pakistan and Iran for destabilizing Afghanistan. China and Russia, in order to curb American influence in the region and to respond properly to the dangers that are created by the US, have created the (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and its full member-nations are: Russia, China, Kirghizstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and further the list of observers, dialogue and attendees all have been increasing year by year.
However, given the above considerations, for the next 10 years the region will continue to be influenced heavily by interferences from regional and global super-powers.
The Chinese economy is estimated to be worth US$ 22 trillion for 1.36 billion people, while the United States economy is worth US$ 22 trillion for 300 million people. According to an authenticated source the total minerals of Afghanistan are worth in excess of US$ 30 trillion. If this is true, then Afghanistan, with a population of 30 million, might potentially be able generate enough wealth to compete with the United States.
China has a desire to construct a 12,000 km railroad and a 7,500 km highway that connects Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia with Europe in order to greater facilitates trade and development. This would mean that an individual would be able to travel from Kandahar to Europe by train within the coming years. Meanwhile, over the next 25 years China will be consuming 60% of its oil needs by way of pipelines that run through Central Asia, Russia, Afghanistan, Iran and the Middle East. The implementation of proposed and ongoing economic projects such as the following could quickly turn this region into one of the richest regions in the world:
- Building the economic corridor between Afghanistan and China in Wakhan
- Connecting Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Pakistan by train
- The implementation of the KASA 1000 power project between Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan
- Constructing a railroad between Kabul and Iran’s Cha Bahar port
- The implementation of the TAPI oil and gas project between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan
- The construction of a dam on the Kunar River that will generate 1m500MW electricity
- Attracting foreign investment into Afghanistan’s mines and natural resources
- The development of the economic corridor between Pakistan and China
If the human resources, oil and minerals of this region were utilized for the public’s benefit, this region could become very prosperous in a relatively short-time. In the next 10 years, our future must be influenced by our oil, gas minerals and human resources, all of which are pertinent to the economic success of our region.
Ghulam Wali Noori is a former historian of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Political and Cultural Advisor of the United States Army and Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, Data Analyst for United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and currently working as the Deputy of the Internal Affairs Department at National Security Council of Afghanistan. He is also a published translator and author of 13 books including the biography of Hamid Karzai the former President of Afghanistan and a Political Sciences graduate from Carleton University.
Featured Photo from the author.