“The international community has to have a sensitive approach toward Afghanistan”
Ahead of the delegation’s visit to Russia, RT sat down in Kabul with one of the most influential politicians in Afghanistan, Dr. Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, to discuss the challenges facing his country. Ahady is a prime example of a successful Afghan who built a career in the West and returned home after the US invasion in 2002. Even though he was brought up in the West, he remains at heart an Afghan: he does not rule out reaching agreements with the Taliban, and like the average Afghan, he does not want the longterm presence of foreign troops in his country.
- Minister of Commerce and Industry of Afghanistan Dr. Anwar-ul Haq Ahady was appointed in June 2010. He is 60 years old and was born in a village in Kabul Province, to a father who served as a judge. Ahady studied at the American University of Beirut (Lebanon) and Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois, US). He served as a bank officer at the Continental Illinois Bank in Chicago, then worked as an assistant professor of political science at Carlton College (Northfield, Minnesota US). In 1987 he got a teaching position at Providence College (Providence, Rhode Island, US).
- In 2002 he assumed the post of the governor of Afghanistan’s Central Bank. Two years later he was appointed as the minister of finance, and in 2009 he was named the chief economic advisor to the president.
- Ahady is an American citizen.
RT: What would you say are the main problems of Afghanistan today?
Dr. Anwar ul-Haq Ahady: The main problem right now is security. We intend to build friendly relations with our neighbors on the basis of a shared approach to security issues. Second to security and stability is the issue of restoring our economy. You know very well that during the past 30 years our economy has been suffering. Everybody knows that Afghanistan became one of the poorest and least developed countries; over 40% of Afghans live in very bad conditions. These are the most important issues that need to be solved.
Afghanistan annually imports products to the amount of $5 billion. There are almost no exports. We get a lot of international aid, but we try to limit it and deal with the situation on our own.
RT: There is a very large amount of international aid. Are you worried that Afghanistan might become like Africa, when in exchange for international aid, local governments give up their land’s natural resources?
AA: As for international aid, I can say that foreign banks, the World Bank, have been helping us with no strings attached. These are not loans. This money goes to rebuilding infrastructure destroyed in wars – roads, bridges, power lines. So far we have signed major mining contracts only with Chinese companies. No other contracts have been signed at this point. The state is unable to start mining minerals, but international aid has nothing to do with giving up our natural resources. If we look at African countries, like Tanzania or Kenya, for example, no one has given us that much aid so far. But we hope that the state is looking for balanced approaches to these issues, so that we can develop our country.
Rich natural resources of Afghanistan
- In the 1980s Soviet geologists discovered iron, copper, lead, cobalt, sulfur and lithium. Gold, silver and lazurite (the largest minefield in the world) have been mined here for a long time. Gas and oil deposits have also been discovered in Afghanistan, and exploration has already started.
- In the summer of 2010, The New York Times reported this information about natural resources as breaking news and a great achievement by American geologists, who gave an estimated value of $1 trillion. Several days later Afghanistan proposed a different number: three times higher.
- A delegation from Afghanistan, led by President Hamid Karzai, is in Moscow from January 20-22. Ahead of the visit, RT spoke to one of the most influential politicians in Afghanistan, Dr. Anwar ul-Haq Ahady, to discuss the challenges facing his country.
RT: There is lot of cash in US dollars circulating in Afghanistan. Do you see it as a problem?AA:
Seven to eight years ago, when I was the head of Afghanistan’s Central Bank, we had to deal with the problem of excessive amounts of cash, dollar exchange and the stabilization of the exchange rate. As an economist, I can tell you that a large amount of dollars somewhat benefits Afghanistan at this point, but there is certain harm as well. If we look at Switzerland, for example, we can see that they were able to create a system into which all banks in the world put their money. It was good for Switzerland in some respect, but we don’t think this is the right way for economic and financial development. Money comes here through different channels, including Western countries. I cannot deny the fact that money leaves the country, too, and not only through legal channels. I cannot deny the fact that there are illegal ways for money laundering.
RT: What is better for Afghanistan – the Western banking system, or Islamic banking?
AA: We have both systems. But 80% of our financial system is based on world banking practices.
RT: Doesn’t that go against the Sharia principle prohibiting usury?
AA: I don’t think the international banking system contradicts Islam. The whole world uses international financial institutions, including Islamic countries.
RT: How do you see cooperation between Russia and Afghanistan?
AA: I see good prospects for relations between Russia and Afghanistan. It is easier for me to comment on trade. Russia imports into our country construction supplies, cement, rebar, oil products. Of course, the level of trade cannot be compared to what it was in Soviet times. Back then, Afghanistan sold 50,000-60,000 tons of raisins and fruit to the Soviet Union, and now it is only 10,000 tons. We hope there will be development in this area. I want to invite Russian companies here. We want your businesses to come to Afghanistan and create jobs here. It costs a lot to produce things in Russia. It is much cheaper in Afghanistan, so it would benefit both Russia and Afghanistan.
RT: In Russia, many think that Afghanistan’s Western partners don’t want to see Russian companies in Afghanistan.
AA: I disagree. I don’t think Russian companies think that, I don’t think they are unhappy with Afghanistan’s Western partners. There are no such regulations in our legislation. We need to observe our internal laws, which make no difference between Russian and Western companies. Our projects are financed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. They invest in Afghanistan and insist that companies participate in tenders.
RT: How does the Afghan public react to the US military presence in the country?
AA: There is a sense that people want them to leave, but the authorities think that their presence is necessary. I think it is the same way everywhere in the world – there is a difference between those who are involved in politics and those who are not. Everybody is influenced by someone else’s opinion. Of course, many regular people are against the US military presence, they think that the Americans should leave as soon as possible. But we in the government think that we need the military forces of the international community here until the situation stabilizes. But as an Afghan I am not too happy with their presence here, of course. When the situation stabilizes, they should go home.
RT: Do you think it is possible to reach agreements with the Taliban?
AA: I am for the peaceful way of negotiations. But peaceful agreements cannot be a one-way street. There must be bilateral meetings, we need to be able to sit down with them, talk, find common ground. That is the first thing. Secondly, we want to live in peace with the whole world. We want our economy, public life, political institutions, women’s rights, to be defined by the whole nation, and not only through the framework of the Taliban. We need to find a public consensus and live in peace with each other.
RT: What would be the quickest way to peace in Afghanistan – Western political and economic models, or traditional Afghan frameworks?
AA: We cannot distance ourselves from international regulations; the world is connected. But we have to observe our national traditions and customs, relations between ethnicities and tribes. If the government finds a balance, it will achieve the best for our people. The international community also has to be sensitive in its approach to countries like Afghanistan that have strict internal regulations and a complex balance of forces.
RT: Can you explain why you dropped a successful career in the West and returned to your devastated country?
AA: When I was invited to come here from the US, I had a good thing going in America. I was a professor, I had students, published works, a career, a lot of experience. I achieved a lot living in the US. But I think I was able to accomplish something working in my country as well. For example, I signed agreements with Mr. Kudrin about canceling Afghanistan’s debt to your country. What I studied was good and interesting, of course. But since I was a child I was taught to apply my experience, help my country for the sake of my people. I am proud that I work here.
Nadezhda Kevorkova, RT