Addressing a virtual event arranged by US Institute of Peace (USIP), President Trump’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad highlighted the utility of construction of railroad link between Termwz and Peshawar and prospects of returning peace and stability to Afghanistan. He said that after the completion of railroad project between the Uzbekistan city of Termez and Peshawar in Pakistan, the journey of business and transportation of goods will be made in a couple of days.
Khalilzad admitted that violence against American troops has decreased in Afghanistan after US-Taliban agreement. But the frequency of attacks on Afghan government forces and civilians has remained high. He appreciated the positive role of Pakistan in facilitating peace talks with Taliban and thanked Prime Imran Khan and Chief og Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The US envoy also acknowledged the supportive role of Russia and China. With regards to the “spoilers” of these peace talks, Khalilzad squarely blamed the ISIS.
The completion of Termez to Peshawar railroad link will initially promote regional trade, benefiting the business communities and people of central Asian States, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The utility of regional economic integration has increased in the prevailing free trade era. The free flow of goods, services, capital and transfer of technology give boost to output and employment and eventually bring prosperity to the people of member states. ASEAN economic bloc and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation provide role models. However, most often settlement of mutual trade claims in the US dollar hinder the growth of bilateral and region trade. Former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahatir Mohammad, in his address at the meeting of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation had cautioned against the manipulative aspect of dollarization of regional trade. In regional trade blocks, open ended foreign exchange policy of free convertibility of national currencies serves as catalyst for increasing the quantum of trade. The same foreign exchange policy was adopted for trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan during 2002-7, and between Iran and India before the Iran’s nuclear deal are living examples.
Russia has asked for suggestions from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation member countries for using national currencies instead of US dollar for mutual settlement of bilateral trade claims. A road map for the open-ended exchange policy shall be decided in the meeting of finance ministers of this trade block. An alternate solution was suggested by former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahatir Mohammad by floating a proposal of a joint token currency for the settlement of mutual trade claims in a summit of South East Asian Countries last year.
The idea of open ended exchange rate policy of free convertibility of national currencies is not new one. The benefit of such an arrangement had been highlighted when federal government had held a series of seminars in 1992 on Pakistan’s trade facilitation to the Central Asian States. But the proposal was not seriously pursued at the forums of Economic Cooperation Organisations in the region.
First round of peace talks has been held between the officials of Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. It may have bridged the trust deficit between the two stakeholders, raising expectations of decrease in violence in Afghanistan. It is reassuring that the US will continue efforts to make the ongoing peace process as “Afghan’s owned.” But nonetheless, it is largely the responsibility of the US administration help the Afghans to eliminate the ISIS Khorasan, which according to Zalmay Khalizad wants to spoil the peace process. This sort of point of view about ISIS Khorasan is vague as leaders of countries that have common borders with Afghanistan and even Russia do not subscribe to this simple accusative theory. In his opening remarks at Afghanistan Peace Conference held in Moscow on November 9, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had emphasised the threat posed by ISIS in Afghanistan, which relies on foreign sponsors, and wants to “turn Afghanistan into a springboard for its expansion in central Asia.” Let us hope that US will design and lead Syria-Iraq style military operation against ISIS in Afghanistan, before further drawdown of its troops after the success of intra-Afghan negotiations and clinching an inclusive political settlement.