The recent agreement between Kosovo and Serbia reflects a new chapter in diplomacy, allowing Kosovo and Serbia to focus on economic development, job creation and industrial development as prerequisites to the permanent resolution of political disputes. The genius of this approach is it allows for economic engagement by the two erstwhile enemies while they continue to seek solutions to their diplomatic differences.

In other words, Kosovo and Serbia have decided to move forward on the issues they CAN agree on and that will ultimately help them normalize relations. Leveraging each other’s economies will accelerate economic development along their mutual borders. In doing so, they will create economic opportunity that binds their markets together and will depressurize their longstanding political disputes. Countries benefiting from shared borders and open markets tend to moderate their behavior towards one another in the interest of economic gain.

This form of “economic diplomacy” is a model for resolving the war in Afghanistan. In this construct, trust is built through the process of creating opportunities and futures for young people, rather than settling of scores, symbolism, or the righting of historical wrongs. With the US as a lead partner helping implement new economic agreements, Afghanistan, including the Taliban, could enjoy a framework of economic growth in which to settle their political and ideological differences. 

Success would hinge upon the Taliban’s willingness to discontinue violence and work within this new framework of peace. Now is the time to strike this deal as the two parties sit across from each other for the first time in Qatar.

America’s shift from war-making to economic diplomacy would be a welcome change within the region. America could continue the momentum of its recent diplomatic successes as the principal broker of peace between Israel the UAE, Bahrain, Kosovo and Serbia. And regional detractors such as Iran or Pakistan would be hard-pressed to criticize this framework as it would ultimately reduce the flow of drugs and refugees into their countries. Leaders in most of the countries surrounding Afghanistan would welcome the political capital economic growth would produce among their governed.

The Arabian Gulf countries of Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia would almost certainly throw their support behind such an initiative bringing pressure on the Taliban and their funding sources to shift their strategic calculus away from endless violence. Likewise, the bordering Central Asian countries of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan could be major enablers.

Such an approach is in the US President’s sweet spot for deal-making.  Success by the US administration could end the war in Afghanistan, removing the need for US troops deployed to the “endless war” and help inoculate the region against violent extremism.

A deal that holds open the promise of jobs and economic growth seems an easy sell to both Taliban leaders and their foot soldiers. Few of them wish to spend another decade or more living in a constant state of poverty and war. Perhaps economic diplomacy is the answer. Perhaps it really is “the economy, stupid” as President Clinton’s chief of staff once famously remarked.

Author

  • Mr. Gerlaugh is a retired US Defense Department civilian and the former Director of Counter-Terrorism Policy. He holds an MA in Middle East studies and an MS in Strategic Resource Management. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, he started a veteran-based non-profit called Team Afghan Power whose mission is to bring renewable energy to rural Afghan villages.