Free Trade with Taliban? As the US looks set to exit, an entrepreneur from Afghanistan thinks aloud about his country's future

American negotiations with the Taliban have reportedly been on military withdrawal and anti-terror. Why is there no talk about Afghanistan's economic future, banking, tech, even the opium trade?

 |  3-minute read |   17-02-2019
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So far, the US negotiations with the Taliban Qatar office reportedly entails questions of military withdrawal and territorial promises to not be used by international terrorist groups.

Being one of Afghanistan's young entrepreneurs in the field of technology, I want to know what noises one has to make to understand how the Taliban will impact Afghanistan's larger economic dividends in the future. The concerns that I envision in the coming efforts are in the minor details — these include what kind of economic institutions will we negotiate with the Taliban as it will heavily effect the domestic revenues and the efforts made so far.

The Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS), a joint study by the European Union (EU) and Afghanistan's Central Statistics Organisation, showed the national poverty rate rising to 55 per cent in 2016-17 from 38 per cent in 2011-12.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's agricultural economy is already struggling due to the most severe drought experience.

us-talks-story_021219043848.jpgFor how long is the US there? Acting US defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, February 11, 2019. (Reuters/Idrees Ali)

The foreign aid dollar has dried up — along with our water resources in Afghanistan. As the discussion of foreign troops withdrawing proceeds, we must also reflect on the financial opportunities available to us so far possibly closing. My business thrives on new technology opportunities to efficiently support the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Sometimes, it's through an idea pitched, sometimes through open contract bidding. My company employs up to 100 people, my foundation supports over 300 families every year and my internship program provides experience to dozens of students per annum.

The Taliban benefits from our faltering economy.

The sources used to finance their militancy — how will that end? The Taliban have long made their money in the opium trade and the illegal mining of natural resources, such as marble, copper, limestone and coal. There is a sizable indigenous weapons and firearms industry. Hundreds of thousands of people are associated with these industries — will this whole trade be handed over to the government or operated in the black market through other sources? The transaction reliability has been hawala so far — will this also be eliminated?

opium-story_021219043913.jpgThe Taliban have long made their money in the opium trade. Will that continue? (Photo: Reuters/Parwiz)

According to a BBC report, the Taliban's annual income from 2011 onwards was estimated to be $400m (£316m). But it is believed to have significantly increased in recent years — it could be as high as $1.5bn. Will this go to the government now?

Several Afghan and US officials have long accused some governments — including Pakistan, Iran and Russia — of giving financial aid to the Afghan Taliban, a practice they frequently deny. Will these nations now contribute to projects if the Taliban come to peace? Although impossible to measure, these sources of funding clearly provide a significant proportion of the Taliban's revenue, and according to experts and officials, this could be as much as $500m a year.

afghan-men-story_021219043933.jpgWill this continue? Young Afghans are thriving on digital media platforms, agri technology and modern ways of life. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The points raised above are important because now, the Afghans hold economic freedom and are on the way to prospering. The upcoming generation is thriving on digital media platforms, agricultural technology and much more. What will happen to the little venture capital investment thus far? Will the first wave of economic growth regress? Will we continue to operate as an open economy? What monetary policies and banking regulations will the Taliban try to apply?

My suggestions to the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban Qatar office is to start reflecting on how to eliminate poverty, to emerge as the next tech-focused agricultural economy and to accept and improve the current free trade economy.

I will stay in Afghanistan and contribute to building my nation with the hope of a thriving economy.

Also read: How America is hastily exiting Afghanistan, leaving it to the the Taliban, China and Pakistan


Hamed Warasta Hamed Warasta @hamedwarasta

The author was a candidate in the 2018 Afghanistan Parliament Elections. He is one of Afghanistan youngest successful entrepreneurs.

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