09.00 TO 18.00


A Conference Sponsored and Executed by Westminster Centre for Research and Strategy

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.

Westminster Centre for Research and Strategy (WCRS) conducted its ground-breaking Conference on “Role of Britain in Afghan War” at the University of Westminster, London. For the first time a prestigious and big panel of highly decorated and experienced professionals was brought together by WCRS:

Lieutenant General (R) Jim Dutton

Air Vice Marshal (R) Sean Bell

Lieutenant Colonel Arnel David

Group Captain (R) Afzal Ashraf

Imam Asim Hafiz OBE

The Conference was hosted by Aliza Ayaz who is the President of University College London (UCL) Climate Action Society. Mohammad Touseef FRSA FTIC GGA, Deputy DG of Westminster Centre for Research and Strategy (WCRS) moderated the Conference and introduced the distinguished speakers and the topic.

Conference was attended by distinguished guests, military personnel from UK, USA and many other countries, Ambassadors, journalists, media personnel, local community representatives, politicians, students of international relations and security and many others.

In 2001, the Taliban gave haven to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, which allowed terrorists to plan and carry out attacks around the world. British Military joined many other nations in a NATO/ISAF-led military intervention to bring Al-Qaeda’s leaders to justice, remove the Taliban from control in Afghanistan and prevent the country again becoming a haven for international terrorists.

The international military campaign has reduced the terrorist threat from this region and helped train a 350,000 strong Afghan National Security Force, which now has security responsibility for Afghanistan’s 30 million citizens.

Our 1st Speaker, Lieutenant General (R) Jim Dutton is a highly decorated retired Royal Marines Officer who has led ISAF in Afghanistan as a Deputy Commandant. General Dutton is also a former Governor of Gibraltar. He has held many senior positions including Director of NATO Policy at Ministry of Defence, British liaison to the Pentagon shortly after the attacks of 9/11. In 2003, General Dutton commanded a brigade into the Iraq war and thus became the first British Military Officer to have led American forces after World War II. As a General, he served as Commandant General of Royal Marines and a dual appointment with Commander UK Amphibious Forces.  

Our 2nd Speaker, Air Vice Marshal (R) Sean Bell is a highly decorated retired Royal Air Force Officer who has led Air Security in Afghanistan as a Commandant of Air Operations. He has completed three tours in Afghanistan concluding with just under a year in Kabul to serve the International Stabilisation and Assistance Force (ISAF) with responsibility for Air Ops over Afghanistan. His last appointment was Director General Saudi Armed forces Projects. He commanded 1 (Fighter) Squadron from 1999-2001, and the Harrier Force from 2005 to 2007, and completed staff tours in Canada and many others.

Our 3rd Speaker, Lieutenant Colonel Arnel David is a Civil Affairs officer and Army Strategist still serving on active duty. He has served multiple tours of duty in both conventional and special operations units where he deployed to the Middle East, Central Asia, and Pacific. He is currently the Chief of Staff for the Army Future Studies Group and recently deployed as the Commander’s Initiative Group Chief for Special Operations Joint Task Force – Afghanistan. Currently Col David is deputed in United Kingdom as a Special Assistant to the Chief of General Staff, General Sir Mark Carleton – Smith. He is a distinguished military graduate from Valley Forge Military College

Our 4th Speaker, Imam Asim Hafiz OBE is the Islamic Religious Adviser to the Chief of the Defence Staff at the UK Ministry of Defence, and the first Muslim chaplain to the British armed forces. In 2012, he spent eight months in Afghanistan as part of UK/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts to increase religious understanding to promote peace and stability. He founded the Armed Forces Muslim Association, a service personnel support network, and the Armed Forces Muslim Forum to improve mutual understanding between British Muslim communities and their armed forces. He was awarded an OBE in 2014 for services to Defence.

Our 5th Speaker, Afzal Ashraf is a Consultant Fellow at RUSI, following a diverse career spanning defence, national security, diplomacy, rule of law and delivery of training and education. After a start in combat aircraft research and development in UK industry, he was commissioned as an Engineer officer in the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring three decades later as a Group Captain. His tours of duty included counterinsurgency and policing focussed operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a position in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was responsible for political and military policy as well as security sector reform in Iraq.

“Afghanistan has been at a war for the last 40-50 years. Most Afghans don’t even remember a time before war. The Soviets tried to do a lot of things right but at the end killed millions of Afghans and lost the war. I met with General Mc Chrystal last year in London and he said that Touseef Afghanistan is confusing, so confusing that even Afghans can’t understand it. War corrodes and kills everything it touches. It destroys what’s inside you. War makes you sad. But, sometimes war becomes inevitable.”


The international military campaign has reduced the terrorist threat from this region and helped train a 350,000 strong Afghan National Security Force, which now has security responsibility for Afghanistan’s 30 million citizens.

The process of handing over security to Afghan forces – ‘transition’ – saw the international military’s role change from leading combat operations to training, advising and assisting. This marked a significant milestone for Afghanistan and its people. It has also enabled UK troop numbers to reduce and combat operations to decrease. 

Currently there are nearly 1,000 UK troops deployed in Afghanistan. Development and diplomatic activities have also improved the lives of Afghan people and helped deliver basic needs, such as access to health, education and the opportunity to vote. The UK and international partners have committed significant resources in Afghanistan to help rebuild and stabilise the country. 

Since the drawdown of force elements, British troops are now stationed in Kabul where they take the lead within the Kabul Security Force, a 7-nation organisation which provides vital force protection for UK and coalition advisors who are working with our Afghan partners to increase the capabilities and capacity across the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Alongside military activities, the UK has supported a wide range of projects to improve education, healthcare, economic growth and local governance, in Helmand and across the country.

In this prestigious conference, our esteemed speakers contributed in the discussion on Britain’s role in the Afghan war and how the UK’s involvement has helped to create the opportunity for a more secure, stable and increasingly self-sufficient future for Afghanistan. The cost has been high, but UK’s national security has been strengthened by enabling the Afghans to take control of theirs.

The conference fulfilled the following objectives;

  • Highlighted the role played by British Military and nation in the Afghanistan Campaign, war against terror and rebuilding process in Afghanistan;
  • Highlighted the key strengths and weaknesses of the Afghan campaign;
  • Highlighted the military strategy of UK and other allied nations in the Afghan War;
  • Honoured the sacrifices of fallen soldiers in the Afghan Campaign;
  • Commented on the future of Afghan Campaign;




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