Regional Security

Economic Development and Security for Afghanistan

Jobs and income generation for Afghan people are two key elements to increase development and achieve stability in Afghanistan. With a jobless rate of 40 percent (out of a total labor force estimated at about 15 million people in 2004) and 44 percent of the population below the age of 14, the issue is of paramount importance. Jobs and income generation are also relevant for the international community's efforts to tackle the Taliban insurgency in the near term. Given the widely accepted position that many "rank and file" Taliban fighters are "Taliban for economic reasons" they should be open to reintegration where economic opportunities are created. The upcoming London conference on Afghanistan on January 28 will see Afghanistan’s president unveil a plan to offer jobs, education, pensions and land to Taliban fighters who lay down their weapons as part of the reconciliation and reintegration plan.

Executive Summary

While President Karzai promises economic opportunities for the Taliban, Afghanistan remains heavily dependent on foreign aid and has few sources of income generation for the government or the people. There is certainly potential for advances in these areas in Afghanistan, in agriculture or mining for example, but it will take time to develop them and make them sustainable. In the short term, no significant improvements are expected in the labor market. Achieving some progress and stability in Afghanistan, however, is time-critical. Dwindling support for international engagement in the country highlights this urgency.

In light of this situation, the international community should focus on developing Afghanistan’s migrant labor capacity in a targeted and systematic way in order to increase the prospects for income generation in the form of remittances. The development of semi-skilled and skilled vocational sectors in line with forecast requirements of employment markets, targeting the GCC member states, could provide a near-term solution to Afghanistan’s limited economic prospects.

  • The potential of remittances to enhance economic development in poor developing nations is highlighted by the many successful examples of remittance flows to Asian countries, whose workers are based in member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In that context, the volume of remittances sent home is, for many developing countries, the largest source by far of external capital. In many cases migrant labor contributes considerably to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of recipient countries.
  • Despite the financial crisis and subsequent economic problems, economic growth prospects in GCC countries and the need for migrant labor appears to be strong over the coming decade due to large scale infrastructure projects in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in particular.
  • The increasing jobless rate among nationals of GCC member countries in coming years is not likely to negatively affect migration flows from the Asian countries as the greatest need remains blue collar unskilled and low-skilled labor. Nationals of GCC countries generally target junior and senior white collar jobs.
  • Currently, the numbers of Afghan migrant laborers in GCC countries are relatively small. Afghan migrant labor has so far (often illegally) targeted the neighboring countries of Iran and Pakistan. Due to their own demographic situation and economic difficulties, both countries, however, will not be able to continue to accommodate significant numbers of Afghan migrant laborers. They are, on the contrary, in the process of returning Afghan nationals back to Afghanistan and implementing significant refugee return programs.
  • A coordinated approach by GCC countries in line with expected labor requirements would considerably enhance the stability of Afghanistan via remittances. Historically, GCC member states have shown a strong commitment to supporting Afghanistan. With the expected economic growth in GCC countries, there is the further potential for a considerable strengthening of bilateral relations and an increase in the numbers of Afghan migrant laborers to GCC countries. Such a move would quickly result in external income for Afghanistan and contribute to its economic development.
  • The large numbers of Pakistani migrant laborers in GCC countries and the role their remittances play in the Pakistani economy may lead to friction with Afghanistan if Afghan laborers in GCC countries are perceived as a competition harmful to Pakistan’s economy. A possibility to avoid such situation would be a cooperative approach based on a quota system that allows Afghanistan to profit from the increase in labor demand expected over the next years in a predictable and agreed-upon way.
  • Many international donors have given their support to the Kabul government, actively promoting vocational education and training in the context of their development programs. The next logical step is to strengthen these programs in line with needs of migrant labor markets to qualify unskilled Afghan labor force for employment opportunities.
  • Cooperation between GCC countries and the international community’s training programs in Afghanistan would help deliver migrant labor programs in a targeted and economically viable manner.


PROTECT! Building a Global Network to Combat Terrorists

The world is failing in it's efforts undercut terrorist sentiment across the globe, to succeed a new multilateral political solution is needed to defeat globally networked terrorism.

The EastWest Institute’s 4th Worldwide Security Conference brought attention to two unfortunate realities. More than half of the 600 public officials and private sector participants, all of them involved in some way in counter-terrorism, felt that we are far from winning the long-term struggle against terrorism. Secondly, there was majority support for the view that terrorists are winning the propaganda war.

EastWest Direct: The UN Arms Trade Treaty

EWI’s Alex Schulman spoke with Davis Fellow for WMD Kevin Ching on the impact of the UN Arms Trade Treaty, which was passed in the UN General Assembly on April 2.

Can you outline the basic tenets of the Arms Trade Treaty and discuss what it aims to accomplish?

Prior to the arms trade treaty, there was no real global set of rules governing the trade, export or transport of conventional weapons. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) sets up standards for the cross-border transfer of eight categories of weapons; tanks, combat vehicles, all the way down to small and light weapons. It seeks to curb the irresponsible and illegal trade of weapons and prevent their sale into illicit markets.

Prior to authorizing any sale of weapons, the exporter has to assess whether the transfer is going to be used to facilitate or commit genocide, crimes against humanity, or other international humanitarian laws. If there is a known risk, they are prohibited from making that sale or transfer. Countries will then be held accountable through annual reporting requirements on arms transfers.

What are some objections to the treaty? Can you summarize the treaty’s main limitations?

The three countries that objected to the treaty are North Korea, Iran and Syria. I should say that the objections that these three countries held were echoed by a number of other countries. North Korea didn’t like the idea that exporters would be judging the humanitarian rights record of the importing countries. Iran, for their part, said that, “they didn’t approve of the transfer of conventional arms to foreign occupiers,” which is a thinly veiled reference to Israel. Syria objected because they didn’t like the fact that transfers or exports to armed groups or non-state actors (e.g. rebels in Syria) were not covered.

The treaty is also criticized for its relatively narrow scope; it doesn’t cover gifts and loans, which is a significant loophole. Furthermore, there’s no enforcement mechanism – that’s left to states to resolve.

Though the United States, the world's biggest arms exporter, voted yes on Tuesday, what are the chances of the U.S. ratifying the treaty? There’s stiff resistance from the National Rifle Association and conservatives in the Senate, where it needs a two-thirds majority to win ratification.

The focus of this treaty is entirely on the international trade and transfer of conventional weapons. The preamble of the ATT explicitly acknowledges that states retain their sovereignty and their authority to regulate the internal transfer and internal domestic possession of conventional weapons. It no way infringes upon private ownership. In fact, the American Bar Association was commissioned to do an analysis of the ATT and they found that the treaty is entirely consistent with the Second Amendment.

In the short term, there will definitely be opposition to the treaty in the U.S. The New York Times reports that over 50 senators are against it. So I don’t think this is going to happen anytime soon. But in the long term, the position of the NRA and other treaty opponents will likely be undermined. The current gun safety debate in the U.S., triggered by the Newtown massacre, weakens their position. And considering the fact that the only three countries that currently oppose the treaty are Iran, Syria and the North Korea, the NRA’s alignment with that trio certainly does not put them in a good light.

Why have Russia and China, two leading sellers of conventional weapons, abstained from voting? What does this mean for export control?

In short, China was opposed to the fact that the treaty was approved in a setting that did not allow every state veto power. It was previously negotiated at the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, but consensus was blocked by opposition from Iran, North Korea and Syria. The ATT was then moved to the UN General Assembly, which requires only a simple majority to adopt a treaty. Wary of establishing a precedent, China argued that this move weakened the treaty.

Russia, for its part, felt that a number of the definitions, such as the term “genocide,” were not sufficiently clarified. Should these definitions be more appropriately defined, I believe it would be more acceptable to the Russians.

Russia is the second largest exporter of conventional weapons and China the fifth largest. The fact that these two countries did not approve the treaty outright obviously does not bode well for its implementation.

Anna MacDonald, the head of arms control for Oxfam International, has said, “This treaty won’t solve the problems of Syria overnight…but it will help to prevent future Syrias.” How might this treaty affect the current situation in Syria, if it were to be ratified today, and how might it prevent armed violence in the future?

Even by the most optimistic estimates, we are still one to two years away from this treaty’s ratification and entry into force. If it did enter into force today, it would make Russian sales of weapons to Syria much more difficult. Eventually, post-ratification, this will develop into an international norm. This is what happened with nuclear weapons, biological weapons and chemical weapons. It takes years, but eventually, it will develop into a norm, and this will raise political costs for countries that contravene the norm.

Another thing that the treaty will do is publicly name violators, ostracizing these countries within the international community. In terms of preventing future Syrias, the treaty will fill gaps that currently exist in the global arms trade. Only about 50 countries currently have related laws on the books, so once this treaty is approved with broad support from the international community, it will serve to diminish the now flourishing illicit market for these weapons.

What challenges will stand in the way of effective enforcement of this treaty?

It remains to be seen if countries are willing to subordinate their economic interests to fulfill their obligations under this treaty, so it’s entirely likely that countries will enact laws on the books without enforcing them. We saw this with China’s national export control system in the 90s and well into 2000s; they had laws on the books but they lacked the will or the capacity to enforce many of them. As a result, Chinese missile and nuclear weapons technology found its way into illicit markets.

It’s going to take some significant work on the part of the international community to push countries to actively enforce this treaty and fill these gaps. The ATT is a good start, but it’s a framework for international export control systems; more work needs to be done to build a robust regime that prevents these guns and weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

EastWest Direct is an ongoing series of interviews with EWI experts tied to breaking news stories.


Subscribe to RSS - Regional Security