On January 31, the International Relations Society held an event to discuss current issues of public affairs, and more specifically, the relations of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with its neighbors Pakistan and India. Present was the Afghanistan’s ambassador to Italy, Waheed Omar (وحید عمر) and the discussion was moderated by the President of the IR Society, Mihail Iotov.
Mr. Omar started off by saying he likes to think of himself as a political activist and not a diplomat or a politician. The ambassador said Afghanistan has with Italy one of the country’s longest standing relationships (95 years). The two countries are remote, but good friends. Currently, there are 950 Italian troops in Afghanistan for support, help and security. Additionally, since 2014, 30.000 Afghan citizens came to Italy.
In economic terms, Afghanistan does not have a relevant position in the international market. Although Afghanistan’s overall economy is being boosted by opium profits (the country’s production goes into more than 90% of heroin worldwide), less than 20 percent of the profits actually goes to the local farmers. More than 80 percent goes into the pockets of international companies.
Nevertheless, Afghanistan has an important geopolitical position. As a famous poet once said, “Afghanistan is the heart of Asia.” Over the centuries, people and civilizations met in this Middle Eastern country and it used to be a point of collision. “We are a key transit country,” says Mr. Omar. Nevertheless, today’s Afghanis want to be free of this intersection of interests in their land.
Before the year of 2001, the country’s social and living conditions were difficult. Women were not accepted in society, the government had collapsed; there were no schools and no basic health care. Then came 9/11. Now there are 9 million people in schools and 28 of the country’s MPs are women (that’s more than in the UK or France). They now have a booming civil society (protests, music, cinemas, rights to women, etc.) The ambassador says that country has a vibrant life that could not have been possible without the U.S. interventions.
“So why all the problems that we have?” asks the ambassador to the audience. “It is not our fight, this fight is beyond us, and it is not even a civil war,” he says. Afghanistan’s war is not the country’s own war. They did not make it. Mr. Omar identifies a series of countries whose rivalry games have been played on the Afghan soil in the last few decades. The situation is complex because there are a lot of important actors interested in the strategical position of the country.
First of all, Iraq is in a cold war with Saudi Arabia due to their religious discrepancies. Secondly, Pakistan is the heart of the regional chaos. We are talking about a relatively young country which has problems with India and they are fighting their war in Afghanistan. Thirdly, there is Russia which wants to re-introduce itself at the world stage and it is not very happy with the American advance. We have seen so much trouble because of this rivalry between Russia and the US in Afghanistan in the last few decades. Russia is now trying to directly being involved in solving the regional chaos and it is going to be an influential global actor in the dramatic escalation yet to come.
The Middle East is facing a critical situation, more so after Tump’s election. Under Trump, Islam will now mainly be seen as a political ideology. Afghanistan would welcome warmer and more friendly relations between the US and Russia. As the ambassador says, most of the turmoil depends on the rivalry games Russia and the US have been playing in this region in the last few decades.
From Mr. Omar’s presentation, it was clearly understandable that the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is a country whose society is willing to modernize and westernize, while leaving behind the political aspect of the Islamic religion. However, Mr. Omar did not fail to present the many security issues that the country faces, raising the issue of the complex mosaic of global and regional powers that face each other in the region; among those Pakistan, held by the Afghani authorities as a main agent of regional destabilization. Naturally, one might still question whether this process described by Mr. Waheed Omar is something shared by all Afghan society or whether this is still a cause of division, which might be reflected in the local politics. Notwithstanding this point, there are good reasons to believe that most of the Afghani population is willing to look to the future with hope, peace, stability and prosperity.
After the speech by Mr. Omar, the table was opened for discussion where various guests and advisors discussed what role Afghanistan would play in the future as well as the relations of the Middle Eastern country with some of the most influential global actors, like the United States, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China. A reception followed the event, where everyone could continue the discussion in an informal setting.