Transnational risks link security issues and new forms of governance. They call for a regional approach to conflict resolution in Afghanistan.
In 2002 the Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke of an Afghanistan which would bring „stability to this region of the globe“. Yet, nothing like this has been realized so far and today Afghanistan’s neighbours are afraid of a country that could collapse by the time international troops withdraw.
This fear is less based upon traditional security concerns. A fall of the internationally backed government in Kabul would not lead to a direct threat in a military sense. But, Afghanistan is the source of many transnational risks which affect its neighbours and other countries of the region. Solutions to these risks can only be designed through cooperative efforts of the respective countries (for a more detailed analysis of transnational risks and challenges see UN’s High Level Panel).
Drug trade is supposed to be the most prominent transnational risk emanating from Afghanistan since the country is by far the biggest supplier for the worldwide heroin market (see Afghanistan Opium Survey 2010).The consequences for its neighbours are tremendous. Iran, for example, is flooded with opium out of Afghanistan although it tries hard to control its eastern border. Since the 1990s drug traders are increasingly making use of the northern route through the Central Asian states to bring the drugs to Russia or Europe. Being transit states these Central Asian states thus make the same experience which countries like Iran and Pakistan have already made: the number of drug addicts rises, HIV becomes endemic, drug-related crime increases and so forth. Similar patterns (and be it with different consequences though) can be observed when taking into consideration other transnational risks.
Globalization has swept away borders in a manifold manner. Means of transport or communication can only be imagined globally. Yet, transnational organized crime is as well taking advantage of porous borders. One example is the illicit trafficking of weapons. Whereas at the time of the Soviet invasion the Mujaheddin were supplied with weapons through the „weapon pipeline“ (especially filled by the US and Saudi-Arabia) today there are already hints that Afghanistan is becoming an exporter of small arms and light weapons. These weapons could contribute to destabilize its neighbour’s societies.
The fact that borders are highly porous can best made be visible by turning the attention to migration flows. The dire security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has been spurring migration flows for more than 30 years now. Although millions have returned to Afghanistan, Iran is still home to nearly one million Afghan refugees while Pakistan shelters further two million (see Afghanistan National Development Strategy).
A further transnational risk is a country’s lack of natural resources, especially in terms of water and energy which are distributed imbalancedly among nations. Afghanistan is riparian state of several transboundary river basins (Amu Darya, Indus, Helmand) and thus needs to cooperate with its northern Central Asian neighbours, Iran and Pakistan in order to secure a lasting supply with freshwater and to meet a basic need of Afghanistan’s citizens. Interestingly enough, the saying of „water wars“ between countries which has been prominent for quite a while is just a legend. This does not mean that there is no danger of intrastate conflicts triggered by water scarcity (along ethnic lines, urban and rural areas and so forth; see e.g. this article on FutureChallenges). Nevertheless, scientific studies have proven that water scarcity in regions with transboundary river basins prompts bilateral and multilateral cooperation rather than conflicts (see the Programme in Water Conflict Management and Transformation).
Transnational Cooperation and Governance Efforts
As in many other conflict regions of the world (for example the Great Lakes region in Africa) transnational risks hamper peacebuilding efforts and development in Afghanistan. Therefore it is all the more important to surmount these challenges by finding transnational cooperation mechanisms. If governments and societies of conflict-ridden regions make aware that a security situation just like in Afghanistan or non-functional state structures in a neighbouring country will inevitably have consequences for their own territory, chances for cooperation will rise.
In this regard there are at least some signs of hope. Russia is aware of the consequences the rampant drug trade out of Afghanistan has got for its own society and cooperated with the international community in a large-scale drug raid. Efforts are being made to coordinate the refugee policy between Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan (see Interview with the Afghan minister of returnees and refugees). Even the highly politicized project of a gas pipeline (TAPI) from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan and further to India has been agreed on after many years of deadlock.
A bad security situation and malfunctioning governance structures of a country highly affect neighbouring countries by spurring and intensifying transnational risks. On the other hand, cooperation between countries on this diverse set of transnational risks is a precious contribution in bringing stability to a country like Afghanistan. Regional or even global cooperation does not substitute for national efforts in stabilizing conflict-ridden countries but it is certainly an indispensable supplementation.
This article has originally been published by me on futurechallenges.org