Afghanistan has a rich, long history as a nexus for trade and commerce dating back to the Silk Road. Unfortunately, decades of conflict and strife have left the Afghan economy battered, but not without opportunities.
It is important to think back 15 years ago to where the Afghan economy was before the fall of the Taliban. Kabul, and much of Afghanistan, lay in ruins with very little infrastructure. Very few Afghans had electricity and even fewer were connected to the outside world. The Soviet occupation, subsequent civil war, and the barbaric Taliban regime reduced Afghanistan to a barter economy, wholly dependent on humanitarian aid.
Fortunately, things have changed. After decades of conflict and strife, Afghanistan is moving in the right direction thanks to the hard work of the Afghan people, their leaders, and the support of the international community.
Enormous progress has been made in education, healthcare, communications, and infrastructure. Afghanistan’s economy has grown tenfold from the days of the Taliban, real income has more than tripled, and the Afghani is a stable currency once again. The National Unity Government is working with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) so that Afghanistan can become self-reliant by producing and exporting high-value goods that will help it regain it its historical place in the global trading economy.
Afghanistan has been modernizing its financial sector and working to meet internationally recognized banking standards. I applaud Afghan authorities for their work to exit the Financial Action Task Force “grey list” and encourage further work to fight money laundering and flows to terrorists.
We are all well aware of the difficult situation most Afghans face. Economic hardship and poverty are all too common in Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s economy is growing now, but still too slowly to create sufficient jobs for young Afghans eagerly looking for work, or enough income for their families. The influx of Afghans returning to the country and a weak business climate contribute to high unemployment and pose additional challenges.
For too long, our common efforts have focused on building the state with donor resources, rather than putting private capital to work. But the reality is that Afghanistan’s economic future depends on the private sector, it depends on business. No government can “create” prosperity, but governments can facilitate increased trade and investment, which is indispensable to creating good jobs for tens of thousands of Afghans. An example is the newly inaugurated Afghanistan-India Air Corridor. The U.S. government is proud to work with the Afghan government to use innovative ways to export Afghan products to new markets in the region. This month, under the leadership of the Afghan Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Afghan traders exported 100 tons of high valued goods to India. USAID expects to support the ministry in facilitating many more air cargo shipments in the months and years ahead.
Afghanistan is a wealthy nation. It is richly endowed with mineral resources of every kind, has great wealth in energy resources including oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, sun and wind. Afghanistan is also a nation with a proud history, deep cultural ties throughout the region. Today, Afghanistan is fortunate to have a young and growing workforce eager to find its place in the global economy. Afghan traders are looking for new markets for their products. Yes, we know that despite pernicious violence, Afghan entrepreneurs continue to look for opportunities to grow and innovate. Afghanistan was a trade leader for centuries, and I believe Afghans can reclaim that role once again.
We are committed to working together with the Afghan government to move the economy forward. Based on sound economic policy and growth in the agricultural and extractive sectors, Afghans can revitalize their historical Silk Road link between Asia and the West. I firmly believe the only way to generate long-term sustainable growth in Afghanistan is through less bureaucracy, less corruption and more private sector investment.
We will continue to support Afghan small and large businesses, access to markets, and ultimately more jobs for Afghans throughout the country.