Reversing Environmental Degradation as the Key to Achieving Lasting Peace and Security in Afghanistan
By Asad S. Farhad - Thu Nov 29 2018, 9:36 am
This article was written in February 2015 but remained unpublished date due to the request of the Author. The main point of this article is wealth creation thru proper management of land and water resources in Afghanistan.
The Story of Blind Men and the Elephant
About one thousand years ago, two of the finest poet thinkers the world has ever known, namely, Sanayee of Ghazni, Afghanistan and Rumi of Balkh, Afghanistan wrote timeless poems about an imaginary encounter between four blind men and an elephant. Both poets, basically describe the sequence of events of the blind men teaching and feeling the elephant and then describing their findings, and thoughts about what they thought they had encountered.. The one touching the elephant’s trunk described the animal as a long, soft nose type creature. The one feeling his legs, described it as massive columns. The one touching his ears thought the elephant resembled two gigantic fans, and finally the one touching its back described it as a coarse, hairy, elevated surface.
Without going into the details of Sufi thinking that went into these two timeless masterpieces, I just want to repeat the point these two masters of poetry and philosophy were making: Oftentimes in trying to understand and analyze the world around us, we behave like visually impaired persons who have only a partial understanding and knowledge of the matter at hand. As a result, and by default, we arrive at conclusions that are partially true at best. When actions are based on incomplete or defective grasp of the situation, we end up doing more harm than good and most frequently, our solutions end up becoming new and harder to solve problems; causing untold misery and suffering in the process.
Afghanistan is a brilliant, but sad example of half-baked ideas concocted by pundits without the required knowledge, acumen and the foresight to analyze the roots of the problem and prescribe solutions that could remedy the deep causes of our malady.
As ill-advised was the prescription of a Western style democracy to a, basically, medieval society choking under the weight of superstitions, tribalism, illiteracy, domination by semiliterate mullahs and assorted clergy, ethnic divide, jealously and hatred, and strong active, armed, hostile groups hell bent on taking the country back to the lifestyle of 6th century CE Arabia as per prescriptions of two heretical Arab clerics, namely Ibn Taymiyyah and Mohammad Ibn Abdel Wahab, the introduction ISAF soldiers to make “Afghan democracy” a reality, fraudulently, “electing” one corrupt and morally bankrupt Hamed Karzai for three long terms, and finally inventing the two headed hydra monster known as NUG were cardinal sins that defeated any attempts to bring a functional, capable government to Afghanistan.
Let’s just discuss the case of NUG for a second before moving on. There are serious constitutional questions that need to be answered:
- Does the president have the authority to create the office of the CEO?
- What is the nature of the relationship between the CEO and the parliament and the judiciary?
- What is the hierarchical relationship between the CEO and the vice-presidents? Or for that matter what is the relationship between the vice presidents and the deputy CEOS?
- Do the deputy CEO (unelected, ungratified persons) have any authority over the rank and file of the government? If yes, how much? What are the mechanisms for the exercise of such authority?
- Is this a permanent office? How is this likely handled in the future?
These questions can go on and on, demonstrate how our ill thought solution to a problem has become greater of a problem itself.
This paper is an attempt to study the problems of peace, security, governance, and economic development in Afghanistan from a fresh perspective; hence presenting a new paradigm. Instead of groping in the darkness, the paper will suggest a holistic approach to problem solving in Afghanistan. Piece meal solutions, are by definition incomplete and defective. Only a holistic approach that takes the problems besetting Afghanistan into consideration in their entirety can offer a true glimpse of hope.
A review of the field shows that it is crowded with ideas about solving the ethnic and tribal divide, the leadership vacuum that has existed since the destruction of the Afghan Monarchy at the hands of Mohammad Dawood Khan and his leftist allies (who later turned on him; killing him and his entire family).
This writer has probably read every love and passion filled recommendation as well as every hatred, filled diatribe on the subject, and has wondered if any of these can get our wagon out of the sticky muck we have been stuck in for the past forty or so years.
I have seen some brilliant discourses by the likes of Khalil Noori and Michael Hughes, and some utter nonsense by others.
My suggestions are not meant to cast aside the hard work done by others; but rather to build on work done thus far and to take the next step.
Here is why I believe, a holistic, universal approach is necessary to bring about a sustained and lasting peace, security, good governance, and economic development to Afghanistans.
Suppose a committee of one hundred wise men; including historians, philosophers, political scientists, academicians, religious leaders, tribal elders, politicians, and so on got together and studied all the proposals and chose to adapt one. A new government is put in power by whatever means. Speeches are given; fireworks light up the night sky of Kabul and other major cities; ataans are performed on highways, byways, and soccer fields, sheep are sacrificed and the meat is distributed to the poor. What then? Every honeymoon has its natural sunset clause.
When at the end of the celebratory period, the leaders of the new government get together, they are going to find themselves asking questions like, a OK, we got a government that represents everybody; one that every citizen agrees to its composition and everyone is ecstatic about. HOW DO WE KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING? HOW DO WE PAY FOR THIS GOVERNMENT? RULE OF LAW AND PEACE COST MONEY, WE GOT NONE!
Inability to provide security, government services, extending the rule of law, ending corruption and abuse of power, and creating a fair justice system is the death song for any government. It has been so for the past 10,000 or more years, and it will be so in the foreseeable future.
We can be certain that the world governments have their own sets of problems and agendas, and they won’t be so amenable to keeping their wallets open endlessly so that the Afghans can have good governance. Most of them couldn’t care less.
If a government cannot pay for the services it is expected to provide, it cannot survive, period. “If you want music, you have to pay the piper.”
This brings me to a main point I have been hinting at all along. Since the fall of the cruel and inhumane Taliban rule, the successive Afghan governments have been groping in the dark; like blind mice in barn led by a blind mouse. It is no secret that Hamed Karzai, America’s choice for the Afghan presidency was a crass, loud, bumbling idiot who chose to enrich himself and his cronies at the expense of the hungry and grief stricken Afghan masses by re-empowering the warlords, drug lords, and sharing the bounty of senseless international donor money with the international contractors and mercenaries. He had no plan, no strategy, and as a result delivered nothing; except more poverty, more insecurity, more corruption and more theft.
Now Afghanistan has a new president who has spent almost six months at the office; struggling to find his way. He is still without a cabinet, and the few positions he has managed to fill are occupied by individuals without the necessary education or experience. (Today November 2018, the situation has only worsened.)
Even worse, is the lack of a declared vision and a strategic plan to achieve it. If Mr. Ghani has a vision, he has failed to articulate and communicate it to the rest of us. My suspicion is that he is grappling in the dark; not sure of which direction to take. Besides, international trip after international trip does not leave him much time to concentrate on vision, goals and objectives and strategies for achieving them. Someone should tell him the old adage, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will never get there.”
I predict that Ashraf Ghani, who is an academic, will spread the rest of his presidency elucidating outrageous and outlandish slogans and jabs at his NUG partners with that hideous smirk; while letting the country sink deeper into hopelessness and mayhem. (This prediction has come true!)
We should be assured that whoever replaces Ashraf Ghani would find himself in his shoes and in pretty much the same circumstances, unless he or she comes into the office with a well-developed set of vision for Afghanistan and a strategic plan for accomplishing it. This plan must encompass the leader’s overarching vision for the nation’s institutional system. It must provide for long-term peace, security, economic development, gainful employment, financial stability, educational health and social advancement, good security and creation of “new wealth” in the form of hard currency from exports.
The main pillar of the vision this writer is suggesting is what at first glance may appear irrelevant to a basically, political problem.
I suggest that the solution to the Afghanistan’s security and economic problems lie in the ability to provide well paying, sustainable jobs that create “new wealth” through production of exportable commodities. Any leader who can promise and deliver the above can also deliver security, peace, and economic well being. Other things such as improved health care, education, transportation, housing, clean drinking water, and corruption free improved governance are logical by products of such a system.
Let me take a moment to explain the concept of “new wealth.” In economic terms, “new wealth” means wealth that did not exist before. For example, if I were to build a house and rent it to my neighbor or sell it to him, the money that I make is not new money or new wealth as far as the national economy is concerned. It is, simply, the recycling of existing money from my neighbor to me. The same goes for salaries, wages, gifts , taxes, bribes, theft and so on. On the other hand, if I plant potatoes and export them, say to a neighboring country, the money that I make is called “new wealth.” Unfortunately, a disproportional percentage of economic and business activities in Afghanistan revolve around the “existing wealth,” and they do nothing to stimulate real growth. In fact, most often, these economic activities result in taking the existing wealth out of the country. Every import related activity in an economy is an activity that involves taking money (wealth) out of the Afghan economy into foreign economies.
Let me recap what I started earlier. Afghanistan is in dire need of a leadership that can build a sustainable, exports oriented economy which creates well- paying jobs. Developing such an economy must go hand in hand with establishing “good governance.” Let me also give you my thoughts on what constitutes “good governance.”
Good governance is the bias free, inclusive (gender, ethnic, linguistic,) corruption free, stress free, fair and equitable delivery of public goods and services, in the most efficient and effective manner possible; given, financial and technological capabilities and constraints of a country.
Good governance, by itself, results in expanded capabilities, satisfied citizenry and overall betterment of lives. This is not a pipe dream. Many governments in the developed and the developing world have achieved it. Good governance does not mean that every citizen will become rich. It just means that everyone will have equal access and rights. It goes without saying that an educated well informed, law abiding, and civic minded, citizenry is essential to make good governance possible. A citizenry comprised of thugs, criminals, drug and gun runners, warlords, lawbreakers, foreign agents, sexual predators and deviants (especially in the guise of religious leaders,) thieves, smugglers, and believers in alchemy, seers, magic and amulets will make mockery of attempts at good governance. Education and well- paying jobs together with a transformational(as opposed to transactional a’la Karzai and Ghani) national leadership style will go a long way towards shaping the moral outlook of the citizenry. Unfortunately, I do not have much faith in the religious leaders, whose job it is to guide people to the straight path, to do the right thing. This is like expecting the wolves to guard the sheep. Updated religious, moral curriculum throughout the educational system is another must.
As I said earlier, unless a government can pay for the essential services, it is condemned to failing. How does a government pay for “good governance?” Save for the oil rich, and mineral rich nations, all governments everywhere, fund their activities through taxation, fees, licensing, rents, and leases; with taxation being the largest component. However, before the government can collect taxes, the citizens must have incomes on which to pay taxes.
Once again, this brings us to the issue of sustainable, gainful employment, which will produce taxable incomes. I should also mention that as people’s incomes rise, they will demand more and better consumer goods that will lead to increased imports and higher revenues to the government from import duties and the supply and distribution chain activities (transportation, warehousing, fuel sales, construction, labor, etc.)
When the economy is fueled with export revenues, it is natural and healthy to have the imports that make life better for the citizens.
So, how should the future Afghan government create exports based, gainful employment? (Jobs and self employment.)
Two things come to mind:
- Value added exports of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth (I am not going to discuss this in detail).
- Development of the agricultural sector; including agro-industries that will add value (hence new money) to the exports and create those well paying jobs and self employment opportunities.
I know that this has been the battle cry of the governments of Afghanistan for a long time. Initially, the focus was on food self-sufficiency. In the final decades of the twentieth century, the focus was enlarged to include exports of agricultural produce, especially fresh and dried fruits as well as pelts, hides, and wool.
This dream is still far from being realized. The reason is quite obvious; but it escapes successive Afghan governments. This is the “Paradigm Shift” that the title of this paper alludes to: Reversing Environmental Degradation As The Key to Achieving Lasting Peace and Security in Afghanistan.
I am certain that many readers will shake their heads at this title while expressing reservations about this writer’s mental state.
If we think this through, we will realize that food is the most essential commodity for humans, after air and water of course, and before clothing and shelter.
Humans can continue to live if they discarded most of their possessions including furnishing, electronics, books, computers, bicycles, vehicles, etc.; but they cannot live without food. For this reason there will always exist an insatiable market for food (including fruits). Food production expends on a solid agricultural base; this is something that Afghanistan lacks.
So far, no one has been able to identify the real culprit behind the massive failure of the Afghan’s agricultural enterprise. Based on the recommendations of the so called agricultural experts from the west, ambitious irrigation projects; including canal networks and massive dams have been undertaken since the 1950s. While these projects have increased the arable land, in addition to providing hydro-electricity, their overall net effect on the nation’s agriculture has been mixed. In places like Helmand, it has lead to excessive soil salinization. In other areas, cost/benefit ratios are not so clear. Additionally, dams and canal systems only benefit the flat lands.
In order to improve its agricultural portfolio, Afghanistan needs overall land reclamation, which is, basically, what “reversing environmental degradation” means. Much of land in Afghanistan has been deforested and denuded; in short, degraded for thousands of years by of over grazing, senseless falling of the trees, and cutting of the brush cover in late summer, before the ground cover has had a chance to spread their seeds for regeneration.
The degraded land lacks the capacity to hold rainwater which flows downhill taking valuable topsoil with it. The result is the wind swept, lunar landscape that Afghanistan has become today.
Most areas that have an annual precipitation of 200 mm can sustain vegetation and trees; provided the land is enabled by deliberate and purposeful human action to absorb and retain rainwater. Once the degradation is reversed, natural reforestation will happen with a little human help. Land that is brought back to life using scientific principles and practices of soil and water conservation can become fertile, verdant oases that will support fruit and food crops production without the need for expensive, high tech systems. This type of verdant land will provide jobs, employment, food, and eventually hard cash for other life sustaining activities.
Of course, this is not an overnight thing. It will take anywhere from ten to forty years to reverse the current environmental degradation.
The specific techniques and technologies utilized in reversing environmental degradation are beyond the scope of this opinion piece. Needless to say, they are all well grounded in hard science and have yielded satisfactory and commendable results wherever they have been put to use.
To summarize, in order to improve the security situation in Afghanistan, we need to find an alternative for the Afghan youth besides joining the hostile armed groups. An epic, nationwide re-greening, and re-forestation program could be the most appropriate vehicle for putting these potential terrorists to productive work where they can earn a living wage; normally, humans tend to gravitate towards peaceful activities that provide fair remuneration.
Once the land is re-claimed in the valleys and hillsides of Afghanistan, and it turns green and productive, millions of jobs will come into being in agro-industries and affiliated businesses.
This is the transformation that Afghanistan needs, and it is the only way to get out of the present sticky mud.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Khaama Press News Agency. We welcome opinions and submissions to Khaama Press Opinions/Exclusives – Please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Asad Sakhi Farhad was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1948. He moved to Ankara, Turkey with his family where he attended primary and middle schools. After returning to Afghanistan, he graduated from the Habibia High School in 1966 at the top of his grade. That gave him a full scholarship to attain his bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from the American University of Beirut. After working in Afghanistan for 3 years he was awarded a Fullbright scholarship for graduate studies in the US. His graduation from the State University of New York coincided with the communist takeover in Afghanistan. He subsequently moved to California where h worked mainly in the insurance business from 1979 to 2004. He returned to Afghanistan in 2004 to join the IARCSC as the Director General of Civil Service. In 2005, he became the Deputy Minister of Finance , and in 2007 a World Bank Advisor to the Ministry of Mines. In 2008 he helped establish Afghanistan’s first privately owned insurance company, ICA. Retuning the the US at the end of 2009, he taught Dari and Pashto at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Ca and public policy to master’s program students at the Bellevue University. He currently, enjoys being a grandfather, writes children’s stories as well as political and economic articles. He can be reached at: email@example.com