The UN 75th General Assembly Session is abuzz with online and video- recorded speeches of world leaders – articulating views on post – COVID-19 world affairs, envisaging UN reforms and revamping multilateralism for addressing international security and developmental issues of common concern. The UN is at the cusp of suggesting a recalibration of the multilateral system in keeping with the session’s goal of – “The future we want, the United Nations we need”.
As per Indian media reports Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in his video-recorded speech praises the UN, yet observing that the institution faced a ‘crisis of confidence’. He makes a strong pitch for UN reforms and restructuring, to imbibe a deeper sense of multilateralism for conflict resolution and mitigation of non- traditional security threats. The speech will be formally released on 26 of September at the UN General Assembly session. The speech is significant, since in next few months India will occupy an elected non-permanent seat at the UNSC.
From the perspective of peacebuilding in Afghanistan, on 23 Sep, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, propounded a sound vision on comprehensive security and sustainable development for the region. The visionary leader reinforced the points he had made at the 72nd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2017. Since assuming office, he has embarked upon lofty initiatives for conflict resolution, integration and development of Central Asia, and in fostering a regional consensus on issues of common concern.
In March 2018, Tashkent played host to a high-level international conference on Afghanistan; the declaration adopted whereby has come to be a “roadmap” for ensuing inter-Afghan peace talks. In fact, many of his ideas were adopted at the “Feb 20 US Taliban Agreement” and in the framework for “Sep 20 Intra- Afghan Dialogue”. Taking a cue from his lofty thoughts, in December that same year, the UN General Assembly passed a special resolution entitled “Enlightenment and Religious Tolerance”.
He also mooted the concept of “Youth 2020: Global Solidarity, Sustainable Development and Human Rights”. During his current address he has proposed a new strategic format of international cooperation on Afghanistan – the creation of a Permanent Committee (PC) at the UN (PCUN). The new concept entails six essential elements.
First, the creation of a PCUN will strengthen regional and international consensus for peace building in Afghanistan. At a time of inter-Afghan negotiations and the forthcoming reduction of coalition forces, it is extremely important that donor countries and international institutions reaffirm their commitments to provide assistance to Afghanistan. Notably, 75% of Afghanistan’s state budget is covered by foreign contributions. Secondly, the creation of PCUN will harmonize the work of the international community and facilitate functional tasks of UN agencies such as UNICEF, UNESCO, WHO, etc.
The pandemic is aggravating the humanitarian situation; the unemployment rate in Afghanistan may increase by 40%, and poverty by 70%. According to the UN report, one third of the population of the Afghanistan, incl. 7.3 million children are facing food shortages. Third, the PCUN will foster regional cooperation and minimize zero sum geopolitical rivalry amongst regional and extra regional players. Fourth, it will build collaboration in the fight against terrorism and extremism. Today, about 20 regional and international terrorist groups operate in Afghanistan. Since 2001, killings in Afghanistan have reached 160,000 people, of which 43,000 are civilians.
The creation of a PCUN will accelerate cooperation in exchange of information and sharing of best practices in countering terrorism. Fifth, the new body will allow mobilizing funds from the international community for the implementation of infrastructure and socio-economic projects in Afghanistan. The initiative will help in harnessing and mobilizing rich resources of Afghanistan and put the country on the path of self-sustaining growth and development. With the onset of peace, new employment opportunities will accrue, thus drawing the youth away from the vicious circle of violence.
Sixth, with the onset of peace, Afghanistan will realize its potential as a strategic bridge integrating Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia through a web of trade, transit and energy corridors. The landlocked region will gain access to warm water ports in the Indian Ocean, and link up huge demand and supply markets in India, China and Europe.
Uzbekistan and Afghanistan share common border and deep historical and cultural ties, the two being Amu Darya civilizations. Tashkent enjoys the trust of leadership of Afghanistan, cutting across ethnicities and political parties. And, of course, it has good rapport with Taliban and have hosted them from time to time for a constructive dialogue. In consonance with its national policy of “Afghan owned, Afghan led and Afghan controlled” peace process, Tashkent has wholeheartedly welcomed Doha inter-Afghan talks. Tashkent has offered to host future intra- Afghan dialogues.
It has helped Afghanistan in economic reconstruction through the implementation of joint projects in the transport, economic, energy and educational spheres, such as construction of Surkhon-Puli-Khumri power line, proposed extension of extension of the currently operating Hairaton-Mazar-i-Sharif railway up to Herat, setting up of Educational Center for Afghan youth, creating International Logistics Center, and the customs station “Termez-Hairaton” in the city of Termez.
Uzbekistan and India share a common vision and position on Afghanistan. The two countries have echoed similar approach towards enduring peace and sustainable security in Afghanistan. India has consistently espoused democratic consolidation of Afghanistan, under an “Afghanistan-owned, led and controlled” peace process. Indian foreign minister in his video speech welcomed the initiative of the Doha peace dialogue. India is against interference by foreign countries in the internal affairs of Afghanistan, and is averse to the ‘New Great Game’ being played by major powers in Afghanistan.
The idea of creation of PCUN, is in sync with India’s principled position of UN playing the lead role in peace building in Afghanistan. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan regards India as a key developmental partner. India has invested about $3 billion in infrastructure development in almost all the provinces of Afghanistan. New Delhi has operationalized air and land cum sea corridors, for rendering aid and boosting marketing of Afghan products in the India markets.
International business summits have been organized to encourage India and foreign business community to partner with Afghan counterparts in projects in the country. Indian ITEC programme, and liberal visa regime for education and medical treatment are much patronized by common Afghan people. A large number of Afghan security forces personnel are trained in the Indian military establishments and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) receives significant military aid from New Delhi. India and Uzbekistan are natural partners in peace building in Afghanistan at the bilateral level; in undertaking joint ventures or contributing in a multilateral framework under the aegis of new initiative of PCUN, mooted by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
(The writer is Director United Service Institution of India and has been India’s Defence Attaché in Central Asia)