The real challenge is shifting the perception of Afghanistan
In my interactions with friends and family back home in the United States, and with the diverse people I am privileged to meet around the world, I am often asked: What is it like in Afghanistan?
Like any country, in any part of the world, Afghanistan is a land with a people proud of their heritage and rich history, who want a peaceful and secure place to realise their dreams and raise their families.
It is a resource-rich country populated by driven and talented people. Its citizens have had to innovate to resolve problems through decades of conflict and meet the needs of their communities. They hold on to their ethnic and tribal heritage, and yet they never question that Afghanistan is a nation that has birthed a rich diversity of people. Afghans are proud of their diverse nation – deservedly so.
Some of them face daunting challenges daily. Terrorism is real in Afghanistan, and some parts of the country are inaccessible due to conflict. But Afghanistan is not alone in its fight. A strong and vibrant international coalition, of which the United States is a part, trains and assists the Afghan military, which has some of the bravest soldiers I have encountered.
Afghanistan equals opportunity and determination. Afghanistan equals high-quality products, like carpets, gems, spices, and fruits. Afghanistan equals innovation, like clean energy and technical solutions to everyday problems. Afghanistan equals better education for children and jobs for graduates eager to join Afghanistan’s growing economy.
The real challenge is not terrorism. It is shifting the perception of Afghanistan. Instead of saying Afghanistan equals conflict or terrorism, let’s say that Afghanistan equals opportunity and determination.
Afghanistan equals high-end products, like carpets, gems, spices, and fruits. Afghanistan equals innovation, like clean energy and technical solutions to everyday problems. Afghanistan equals better education for children and jobs for graduates eager to join Afghanistan’s growing economy.
This narrative is too often silenced, but it is time it is heard.
Afghanistan wants a better future. It has shown the world it seeks to be part of the global marketplace by joining the World Trade Organisation. The country continues to engage with its neighbours and international trading partners. It knows that a strong and vibrant private sector is essential to its future prosperity. We must recognise the potential and possibility found in the country of Afghanistan and its people.
Trade and investment are part of the foundation of a flourishing society – a society that provides education for its children, health care for its citizens, and a sense of purpose and contribution to all. Every country in the world understands that trade and investment are indispensable to prosperity.
India – the world’s largest democracy and a giant in technology – models this idea.
The value of India as a model is reflected in President Trump’s recently announced South Asia strategy, which recognises India as a major player in helping Afghanistan seize opportunity and attract investment.
India has dedicated more than $3 billion to Afghanistan’s development since the fall of the Taliban. The India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam, also called the Salma Dam, helped revive Herat’s economy. India has demonstrated its strong commitment to Afghanistan’s democratic future by constructing the Parliament Building in Kabul. The India-Afghanistan Air Freight Corridor has allowed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods to move efficiently to markets in both countries – a model of trade connectivity.
The India-Afghanistan Trade and Investment Show, aptly called “The Passage to Prosperity,” opening this Wednesday in New Delhi, will launch a reinvigorated commitment to US-Afghan-Indian integration through trade and investment. This trade show provides a road map for intentional, proactive engagement among the India, Afghanistan, and the United States, which will help bring stability and prosperity to the region.
Afghan investors, traders, and exporters showcase highly valued products and ingenuity, and they seek the same from India and the United States. All nations seek increased private sector engagement, because trade promotes stability and security.
The historical and cultural connections between India and Afghanistan go back several millennia. These two countries share bonds that continue today, among families, communities, and cultures.
It is time to recognise the opportunity in Afghanistan. It is time to recognise the country’s potential – to recognise the narrative that is the real Afghanistan – and take the next steps to ensure its future prosperity.
Hugo Llorens is U.S. Special Charge d’Affaires to Afghanistan
The views expressed are personal