The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will."

Substitute 'soldiers' for 'Taliban' and Frédéric Bastiat accurately foresaw a major factor in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan... although one might argue that many goods (notably AK-47s) do already cross the Afghan-Pakistani border and that the Durand line is not a real border anyway.

I'm beginning to wonder if there are any problems in the world today that were not caused by bespectacled English civil servants randomly drawing lines on maps from the safety of their dusty offices in Whitehall. However, that's another subject for another day.

It is perhaps with Bastiat's maxim in mind that the G8 have announced further measures to encourage cross-border trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The initiative aims to create local employment in the border regions and follows similar projects such as the Dubai Process (which began in January 2007).

I recently attended a conference where Amb. Randolph Mank, Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan (Canada currently chairs the G8), described the Dubai Process in some detail. Essentially the idea is to bring together technical-level people and ask them what they need. It led to an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad to open their three (legal) crossing points seven days a week, up from the previous five days, as well as further discussions and/or agreements on customs, counter-narcotics, the movement of people and socio-economic development - namely, infrastructure for trade facilitation (road, rail etc) so that trade corridors may underpin reconstruction and reconciliation.

I'd be curious to learn what tangible impact these well-intentioned initiatives have actually had on the ground. It seems to me that such initiatives are not only complimentary but essential to the population-centric approach to counter-insurgency (see Frederik's recent post on that subject).

Moreover, I would argue - as many have before me - that we should not limit our efforts to the Afghan border with Pakistan. I can understand why that particular line in the sand would be the focus of the international community's attention but I think the same principles hold true around the entire perimeter of Afghanistan's territory. Given that country's historical position as a crossroads on the Silk Road, it seems perfectly logical to use geography as a stimulus for economic development. Translation: invest in road and rail links, as well as facilities such as cold storage, which can help Afghanistan become (once again) a major trade hub between Central Asia and/or China and the seaports on the Pakistani and Iranian coast.

No comments:

Post a Comment