What does Afghanistan mean to Israelis? What does Israel mean to Afghans? Most Israelis associate Afghanistan with the War on Terror and Osama Bin Laden. Ajmal Sohail, the leader and founder of the Afghan Liberal Party, wants us to know that there is far more to his country than strife and conflict. In an unprecedented attempt by an Afghan public figure to reach out to the Israeli public, agreed to an email exchange with me during which he explained the massive challenges facing Afghans today, provided a glimpse at how Afghans perceive Israel and was highly receptive to the potential for positive relations between the two countries. I conducted the interview as a representative of
“Mitvim” – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies,
Ajmal began by introducing himself and his party. In addition to working as an economic advisor for the vice-presidency of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ajmal twice ran in parliamentary elections, suffering a narrow defeat each time. He is a political economist and appears frequently on national and international news outlets. He has written three books (A Journey to the Edge of Liberalism, Globalization or Global Capitalism and Capitalism of our Era). In addition to his current duties, he is leading a group of Afghans determined to catalyze an ‘Afghan Spring’ in order to bring about democratic reform and rid Afghanistan of corruption and nepotism.
The Afghan Liberal Party was established in 1998 by a small group of Liberal-minded young people and academics. It launched its activities in full in 2001 and registered with the Ministry of Justice of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan in 2004. The Party platform commits to Individual liberty and social responsibility, free markets and equal access to social services for citizens, the rule of law, and social and religious pluralism.
In our email exchange, Ajmal described the current situation in Afghanistan, one that is multi-layered and complex. He acknowledged that the situation is just as confusing for Afghans themselves as it may be for Israelis:
“The situation in Afghanistan is pretty critical: it’s full of challenges, warlords are in power. Corruption and lawlessness have tremendously strained the Afghan people. Most importantly, the insurgency has gained momentum. Most of the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan and between Afghanistan and Iran are not under the control of the Afghan government.”
These are the main issues that currently set the agenda for Afghans:
“The upcoming presidential elections have become a grave concern for Afghans since they believe that the President [Hamid Karzai] wants to make a secret deal with the opposition that will help him to establish a new “chief executive post” in order to pave the way for him to maintain control of the country. This is similar to the political maneuver Putin and Medvedev did in Russia [in which they shifted the weight of power from the premiership to the presidential office] and many believe the President is trying to apply the same scenario in Afghanistan.
“Security is another key issue. Many believe that as soon as NATO withdraws from the country the vulnerable security forces of Afghanistan will not be able to defend the country and Afghanistan will once again become a safe haven for terrorist cells. There is also widespread concern that regional powers may again take over Afghanistan as a political stadium for their strategic depth.
“The difference between Kabul and Washington over the US’s long-term strategic presence in the country is an additional troubling issue in Afghan daily life. Both Iran and Pakistan appear wary of a US long-term presence in Afghanistan, viewed it as a threat to their national security. Therefore, we have seen Iran and Pakistan applying pressure to get the President to halt any long-term strategic relationship between Kabul and Washington.
“Drug trafficking is an added issue which has been ruinous to the legal economy of the country and helps fund terrorist wars within the country.”
Ajmal discusses Afghan views of Israel and possible future cooperation between the two states.
“Israel is not Afghanistan’s enemy. As in many countries, there are folks on both sides of the conversation. In Afghanistan, Islamic fundamentalists, political pundits and political leaders backed by Iran and Pakistan call for the annihilation of Israel. But the youth are open-minded and moderate. There are Afghans who see Israel as a possible ally in establishing a counterweight against those countries that support terrorism that harms Afghanistan.
To be honest the conflict between Israel and Palestine is primarily of concern to Israelis and Palestinians and has no direct geopolitical, geo-strategic or geo-economic impact on Afghanistan; but still, Afghanistan votes for a peaceful solution and co-existence of Muslims, Jews, Christians and others.”
And what does Afghanistan offer Israelis?
“I can tell you that Afghanistan is not opposed to doing business or trade with Israel. The people at the very top understand the power of the dollar and the potential economic value of not shutting anyone out in the global environment. I don’t recommend either side make huge media announcements. Do it slow and grow.
“Of all the ‘Stans,’ Afghanistan offers the best potential for economic growth. It is a culture that has been historically steeped in trade and commerce. The economic development that can be expected due to international aid and investment holds the promise of dramatic economic growth. Banking, mining, and alternative livelihoods offer golden opportunities for Israeli business ties with Afghanistan.”
To conclude, Ajmal sends a message to Israelis:
Use the experiences in your own area to help Afghans pursue their own peace process. What went right or wrong? There is no reason to keep this a secret and your experiences could mean a lot at the political and public levels.