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09.00 TO 18.00

MONDAY TO SATURDAY

Afghan Peace Talks


By


Asad Ali

Diversification of the economy has now become a driving aim of the government of Azerbaijan in recent years due to dramatic reductions in oil revenues resulting in low global prices. Agriculture reforms necessary in these regulations as a key non-energy sector of the economy in order to preserve financial protection and support for continued development. Advancement of the oil and gas sectors in the early 1990s encouraged Azerbaijan to rebound from both the post-Soviet economic meltdown. Despite the "Contract of the Century" agreed to sign in 1994 between the Azerbaijani government and the British Petroleum (now BP)-led conglomerate of energy companies, oil exports brought considerable financial resources that led to remarkable economic development in a relatively short period of time. By 2007, Azerbaijan was among the world's fastest emerging growing economies. The increasing reliance of Azerbaijan on oil and gas also multiplied its sensitivity to volatility in the price of hydrocarbon commodities. The transformation to a market economy and the war with Armenia, indeed, had disrupted much of the economic and social infrastructure and international trade relations, providing additional stress to rely on its oil and natural gas being developed.


After the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, Baku centered on tackling the consequent vulnerability of the economic system of Azerbaijan by attempting to put the foundations for regional economic diversification. The first prominent initiative was the idea of "Azerbaijan—2020: The Vision of the Future," launched in 2012 to build a competitive economy beyond hydrocarbons. These initial attempts were totally inadequate to sustain the important implications of sudden oil shocks in 2014 and 2015. The Central Bank of Azerbaijan undervalued the national currency by around 80 percent against the dollar in 2015 as a result of lower oil revenues. A deteriorating economic situation led to an economic depression of 3.8% in 2016, which further compelled Azerbaijan to strengthen its cycle of diversification. The government, in reality, introduced so-called "Strategic Roadmaps" to design a new liquidity-oriented business strategy. Baku is introducing many other structural reforms together with the roadmaps. The Economic Reform and Communications Analysis Center was formed to examine the efficacy of the ongoing reforms. And in the financial sector, the government has established the Financial Markets Control Chamber to impose stricter rigorous and effective control of the financial sector.

Azerbaijan is also focusing on developing the cross-regional transit possibilities of the country as part of its diversification approach. Within the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the North-South Transport Corridor, the government should take an influential role in presenting itself as a regional link. In order to maximise the flow of goods and people throughout its territory and keep improving the operation of its border crossing contentions, Azerbaijan aims to demystify the transportation process by putting in place the eTIR system (which ensures secure, digital data exchange between national customs systems) with surrounding countries such as Iran. A further important consideration undertaken was the establishment of a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) on the grounds of the launch of a new Baku International Sea Trade Port (BISTP), where all enterprises were exempt from taxes and government duties.


The FTZ will encourage the thorough utilization of the transit capacity of the country and reinforce the global role of Azerbaijan as a trans-regional transport and logistics center. The BISTP has also entered into an agreement with the Venlo Transport Hub in the Netherlands to draw well-known European companies functioning as part of Asia-Europe regional logistics chains. Azerbaijan's actions are yielding results in the implementation of its non-oil sectors. The non-petroleum economy contributed for 58.7% of the country's GDP in 2018. Non-oil sectors increased by 3% in the first seven months of 2019, non-oil exports by 17% and non-oil industries by 15.8%. The oil sector, however, still holds the highest dollar value share of exports and thus persists the main source of economic income of the state. Economic diversification encompasses more complex export destinations, which could be made necessary by experimenting with new partners. This prerequisite is the result of the increased expansion of Sino-Azerbaijani economic relations. Nevertheless, this advancement also increases China's political influence over conventional regional powers in the South Caucasus.


Azerbaijan is also convinced of the credit problems in the BRI countries. Considering these variables, Azerbaijan is hesitant in its economic relations with China, slowing the drive for diversification of Baku. The insurmountable reliance of Azerbaijan's non-oil exports on trade with two neighboring countries — Russia and Turkey — is another important consideration plaguing diversification. Agricultural products exports, with the highest proportion of all non-oil exports, are mainly targeted at these two locations. However, it takes time to prepare for new markets, and so does the consequent redirection of domestic exporters and the improvement of their products ' quality and traits to the mandates of new foreign customers.

World Trade Organization (WTO) participation might also be an effective way of increasing economic diversification. Yet Baku was unwilling to discuss WTO requests for dramatically reduced agricultural subsidies to Azerbaijan. Food production employs 36% of the country's labor force, and local products in Azerbaijan are technically unable to interact with imports in terms of price and quality. The government is therefore afraid that ratification to the WTO would undermine the political and economic situation at this time by increasing unregulated foreign economic influence.

Economic diversification is a complicated process, and there is a long way to go for Azerbaijan. Threats from a possible global economic slowdown, however, would have a negative impact on oil prices, thus raising the value of stimulating the growth of non-petroleum and non-gas industries or sectors. Azerbaijan has a tough task down that route of itself, making the existence of the above-mentioned barriers even more difficult. Nonetheless, it has already concentrated on a variety of strategically valuable ventures with impact on future advancement.

Terrorism and extremism has engulfed global community and is putting international peace in jeopardy. Global efforts are required to deal with the growing threats of terrorism. Terrorism is proliferating in the society due to lack of will to and joint efforts against them. There are some countries who are direct victims of terrorism and sacrificed their citizens like Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Afghanistan is playing a role of front line country to fight against terrorism where NATO and U.S. forces are fighting against the so called insurgent group Taliban. Pakistan comes after Afghanistan who have lost 70000 its citizens.


Insurgent group “Taliban” remained in the power in 1990s in Afghanistan and were overthrown by the U.S. after the attack on World Trade Centre in 2001. Since then America is battling with this group with NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan. When President Barack Obama came into power, he announced some changes in America’s Afghan strategy and withdrawal of its troops from the land lock country but failed to do so due to global pressure. His successor Donald Trump said many times in his election campaign that U.S. will not stay in Afghanistan and pulled out its forces from Afghanistan. Unfortunately! He did the same what Obama had done. President Trump announced to send 5000 more troops to Afghanistan in 2017.


Since last year, America is making some concrete efforts to bring the Afghan War to its end and Taliban on the negotiating table. America held secret talks with the Taliban group in their political office in Doha. But remained unsuccessful. After the appointment of Zalmy Khalilzad as American Special Advisor to Afghanistan and Pakistan, a ray of hope arise for peace in the region. Khalilzad is making some serious efforts to bring Taliban to the negotiating table. He is frequently visiting Pakistan and Afghanistan to finalize a comprehensive plan for peace in Afghanistan. American State Department has confirmed his secret meeting with Taliban officials in their political office in Doha.

Strategic location of Afghanistan is compelling America and Russia to act offensively in Afghanistan to bring Taliban on the table. American officials held series of meeting with the Taliban but nothing significant achieved so far. Taliban leadership asked American administration to fulfil their initial demand that is withdrawal of American and NATO forces from Afghanistan. American doesn’t seems interested in this demand. Russian is another strategic players in the region who wants to play a role of peace broker in Afghanistan and many some serious efforts for establishing peace in the Afghanistan. Russia recently hosted Afghan peace talks where representatives of Pakistan, Russia and Taliban participated. Interestingly, Afghan government and American officials refused to back and participate in Russian led initiative for Afghan peace. However, America sent its delegation as observer. Both Afghanistan and America asserted that they will only accept Afghan led peace talks. Afghanistan’s government appointed High Peace Council (HPC) participated in the talks led by Russia. Interestingly, India for the first time participated in the talks and shared a table with the Taliban.


Indian participation in the talks is positive step and should be continued in future to achieve peace in the region. There are two sides of Indian participation of the Indian sides, first, since India has strong footings in Afghanistan and has American support, so it has become a major stakeholder in the peace talks. Secondly, in a positive manner, it is matter of regional stability and peace. Thus, without taking India into account, the peace process cannot be concluded. In negative, India wants to have strategic influence in Afghanistan to counter Pakistan strategically. India viewed Afghanistan a strategic ally. It’s like circling Pakistan. India participation also shows its intentions to actively remain in Afghanistan if America announced its complete withdrawal from Afghanistan. After that withdrawal, India will try to strong its footholds to keep a close watch on Pakistan. Similarly, India is projecting itself as major and emerging global players in the region.


So at the end, no matter who is engaging and bringing Taliban to the negotiating table, what matter is peace in Afghanistan. Every country should play its part to bring back peace in Afghanistan apart from their political and strategic interests. Humanity matters a lot. Millions of Afghan and Pakistani people have suffering due to terrorist activities. America and Russia should set their political and strategic objectives aside and support efforts for peace. Especially Afghan and America should support Russian efforts to if they are serious about bringing peace in Afghanistan. It is right of Afghan people to live in the peaceful and terror free society. In that regard, international collaboration is dire need of the time.


Asad Malik is Mphil scholar in Quaid e Azam university Islamabad. His area of interests is South Asian politics. The author is also a write in various International newspapers.

 

 

 

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