Q&A with Mohd. Shafiq Hamdam, President of Afghanistan’s Dy. Sr. Advisor, about opportunities for Indo-Afghan collaborations

Q. Let us start with the Afghan youth – What are they thinking? What is their current mindset?

A. Around 70% of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 30. So, the youth makes up majority of the Afghan population. Now, there has been 40 years of fighting in the country, which means that majority of the Afghans have not seen peace during their lifetime. The youth has especially not experienced a peaceful moment in their lives. As a victim of four decades of war, they think about peace most of the time and see insecurity as the source of all our problems. The youth is tired of this war, and they deeply desire peace and stability in the country.

Q. Which economic sectors is the Afghan government focusing on? What collaboration opportunities can this lead to between Afghan and Indian companies?

A. Afghanistan is going through a decade of transformation, i.e. 2015 to 2024. The goal of the Afghan government is to become a self-sustained country. Therefore, the government is focusing on areas like human capital development, trade, investment, and industrialization. Afghanistan is rich in minerals, so the extractive industry grew unprecedentedly during the last decade. There is still a lot of room for investment in the extractive industry. Not only is Afghanistan a member of the World Trade Organization, but it also acts as a crucial bridge between South Asia and Central Asia. India and Afghanistan are a historic part of the Silk Road civilization and can be the best trade partners for each other. The revival of the Silk Road can connect Asia again with the Middle East and Europe. Multi-billion dollar energy and transit projects such as Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline and agreement of Chabahar Port as a strategic transit route between India, Iran and Afghanistan are a few examples of how India and Afghanistan can be outstanding partners. ICT is another booming industry in Afghanistan, and several Indian companies and hundreds of Indians have been successfully working in this industry. Among many other things, Afghanistan has the best agri-produce like fresh and dried fruit, nuts and spices, as well as marble, gemstones and carpets.

So while there are security challenges in Afghanistan, let us not forget that the country is full of investment, trade and business opportunities. In short, investment opportunities in extracting industry, energy, infrastructure, finance, health sectors and pharmaceuticals areas abound in Afghanistan. With the country recovering from 40 years of war, the opportunities are unlimited for many kinds and size of business. On the whole, Indians have more opportunities to do business with Afghanistan than possibly any other nationality.

Q. Many Indian universities have seen Afghan students taking up courses. Do you see similar collaboration happening in the technical/industrial training courses; after all, not every youth will pursue a BA or MA? What is your opinion?

A. I appreciate the generous Indian scholarships given to Afghan students; but I think it is mostly quantity, not quality scholarships. Many Afghans who graduated from Indian schools with a BA or MA degree cannot find a job back home. This is because of the low quality of education and the lack of technical skills. In Afghanistan, we need technical assistance more, and there is a better job market for people with technical skills. So, I will highly recommend both quality education and technical education. As a developing country which is recovering from war, we are starting from scratch almost every industry. So we need more technicians than theorists.

Q. Microfinance worked in Bangladesh. To what extent do you think microfinance can be a solution to empower Afghan people into productive economic activity?

A. Microfinance is a new phenomenon in Afghanistan. However, many people are against the concept of interest-taking because of the Islamic finance culture. But still, the industry is booming. We have several institutions which offer microfinance services, but the interest rates are very high and the credit system has not been established yet. I strongly believe that anyone who invests in this industry should have a long-term sustainable plan, and only then will they earn good profit. The concept of microfinance was new to many Afghans, but now many people are used to it. It is needed equally both in the urban and rural areas. For small and home-based businesses, microfinance proved to be very important. But corruption in the banking system remains a challenge. I am confident that any institution with a sustainable plan, reasonable interest and easy process will greatly profit from microfinance.

Q. Lastly, a thought-process is that if the youth is uneducated and unemployed, the country stands more risk of social unrest and being prey to radical groups? What is your opinion about the scenario in Afghanistan in this context?

A. One of the main reasons for insecurity in Afghanistan is illiteracy and unemployment. Afghan youth, as the majority of the population, form the bulk of the unemployed citizens. Unfortunately, they often fall victims to radicalization and a driving-force for the insurgency. However, the government has been trying hard to create employment opportunities for the youth. But no democratic government alone can tackle this issue. It certainly requires a stronger free market and smart business leaders to employ this massive workforce. Quality education is key for every society, but job creation is as vital as education. Education, integrity, and employment are the key tools for the stability of any developing country, and Afghanistan is in dire need of this triangle.

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