Geographically, culturally and historically, Afghanistan is one of the most interesting countries in the world. Deserts in the south and southwest, the Hindu Kush in the northeast and the fertile, predominantly agricultural land to the southeast and north of the Hindu Kush dominate Afghanistan’s landscape. The 33 million inhabitants live in small, remote villages, but also in large cities such as Kabul, Dschalalabad or in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Herat.
Contrasts also characterise Afghanistan’s history. The location of the country on the Silk Road made the region one of the most important transit routes between Europe and Asia, along which magnificent cloths, exotic spices, fine glassware or high-quality furs were traded. Cultural elements, ideas, religions or new technical achievements were exchanged between the nations located along the Silk Road. How is this rich history compatible with the war-torn and crisis-ridden nation, the images of which we see today in the news programmes broadcast in Germany?
Civil reconstruction: Investments in Afghanistan’s future. Despite a wealth of natural resources – along with iron, copper and gold, there is also tin, gemstone and chromium – Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. The unstable security situation in some parts of the country, a lack of infrastructure and a shortage of skilled workers have for a long time hampered the economic development and continue to do so in some areas.
The German assistance in reconstruction efforts has in the past years created the opportunities for an economic progress in Afghanistan. Investments in the amount of 430 million euros in 2011 for infrastructure, education or healthcare have significantly improved the situation for the people of Afghanistan. In the German area of responsibility alone, more than 30,000 persons in various commercial professions have received continuing education since 2009 in order to create improved income opportunities. Since 2002, a road system of more than 600 kilometres has been constructed in northern Afghanistan. Germany has contributed to the construction of nearly 2,000 schools through the national education programme EQUIP. Nearly eight million children across the country now attend school, five times as many as did during the Taliban era. In Afghanistan there is today a trained police force totalling 143,000. The progress in Afghanistan is thus measurable and is leading the country to a modern and secure future one step at a time.
A variety of economic opportunities along the new Silk Road. It is absolutely vital for the continuing development of Afghanistan with regard to a “responsible handover” that the Afghan economy be provided with a sustainable development. This means that investments by the German, European and international corporate community are necessary to create structures, jobs and thus opportunities to earn an income. Only the exploitation of economic opportunities in harmony with administrative, legal and security structures, can provide Afghanistan with the possibility of achieving greater prosperity and thus greater independence.
As rich in contrasts as the country itself are the economic opportunities in Afghanistan. Agriculture, mining, construction sector or information and communications technology are just a few of the business sectors offering excellent opportunities. The “New Silk Road” has become the catch phrase for the economic potential over the past few months. The Afghan economy will, as part of this strategy, become closely linked to the other countries in the region through investments, more intense trading, transport and energy supply. All this is designed to again make the country a junction between Central and Southern Asia as well as the Middle East. Regional and bilateral trade agreements, ease of travel and a simpler availability of loans are just a few of the options available. There are also many opportunities that have not yet been exploited regarding easing trade between Afghanistan and the European Union. These are currently being discussed and could in future ensure market access for goods from Afghanistan to Europe. The regional conference in Istanbul in November, and the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn on 5 December 2011, will provide sustained impetus to this process.
Afghanistan – a changing country. Afghanistan is a changing country. While the share of agriculture in the gross domestic product is declining, in particular the added value of the industrial sector is increasing. Construction and communications are two areas which have recorded a considerable dynamic development during the past years. Nearly all of Afghanistan is connected by the so-called Ring Road, a railway line is to begin operation shortly, and leading to Hairatan and from there on to Uzbekistan. There are many opportunities particularly for German companies in trading with agricultural goods, but also for the renewal of technical processes. All those who invest in modern processing technologies or the packaging industry will have a tremendous advantage in the market. There is considerable need for refrigerated transport or storage facilities.
The energy sector also offers opportunities, particularly with respect to hydropower and solar energy. Mining could potentially develop into a significant economic sector. Here, a large number of individual invitations to tender are expected in the coming years. There is already considerable interest shown by Asian countries, particularly in the People’s Republic of China.
German government and business: together for a modern Afghanistan. Of course, it also takes courage when it comes to investing in Afghanistan. Cultural differences, administrative challenges as well as the unstable security situation in some regions of the country may very well cause some entrepreneurs to think twice about investing in Afghanistan. However, I find the economic opportunities available in Afghanistan to be very convincing. The German government and the German business community together have the opportunity of contributing to a sustainable development of Afghanistan. Just as the government has dedicated itself for many years and decades to the development of Afghanistan, so will the German business community continue to be a reliable partner. It will help to open doors, exploit potentials and will always stand by the parties involved.
Afghanistan took another important step towards independence at the conference in Bonn, which was held on December 5, 2011. Many such steps will follow in the coming years. The establishment of economic structures is a vital element in these steps and one that we can only master together.
After studying political science, constitutional and international law as well as sociology, the author joined the Federal Foreign Office in 1986 and began his attaché training. From 2008 to 2010, he headed the Afghanistan-Pakistan task force in the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. Rüdiger König has been ambassador to Afghanistan since August 2010.