The withdrawal of International Forces end of 2014 from Afghanistan leaves space for a constructive role of regional countries and provides multiple economic opportunities to Afghanistan and its neighbors. This also brings major responsibilities on Afghanistan to work with its neighbors towards policies and institutional mechanisms to translate this potential into concrete regional projects. The National Unity Government (NUG) intends to improve its relation with neighboring and regional countries, particularly Pakistan. Yet, as recent developments and statements from both governments show, the relationship is still fragile and practical steps for reaching a lasting peace can be shattered in seconds. Considering the sensitive political relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan the hbs project “Regional Civil Society Engagement in Green Dialogs” seeks to shift the focus of discussion from security aspects to shared interests in managing natural resources equitably. Regional dialogs and cooperation on equitable resource management will not only build confidence between regional actors but also motivate them to contribute to a peaceful and stable Afghanistan.
The Afghan government is committed to share the benefits of its centrality through regional cooperation - particularly economic integration - with its neighbors and countries beyond the immediate neighborhood. Insecurity and instability are a huge hamper for cross border trade and multilateral projects which could generate a sea of advantages for these countries. The Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India - TAPI - pipeline and the Central Asia South Asia (CASA-1000) electricity transmission are cross border projects that would enable the South Asian countries to jointly compensate their energy scarcity and crisis. Being located in the centre of such projects, the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan becomes a crucial determinant for regional management of natural resources. Strategies and solutions need to be appreciated in the light of the current security situation in the region. Both governments have indicated on different occasions that they would try to move forward and resolve existing conflicts. It is now time to activate stakeholders from both sides and establish a platform where new ideas could be generated to focus on shared interests and mutual benefits rather than distrust and suspicion.
While the discussion on shared resource management, including water is a highly technical subject, it is also a highly sensitive political subject. Direction and monitoring of river flows, developing of standard procedures and negotiation of treaties often touching upon national security interests are generally been dealt with by the respective governments. The focus has largely remained on technical aspects of energy resource projects and discussions on trans-boundary waters between Afghanistan and Pakistan continued to stay on the surface. A continuous and open transfer of knowledge and expertise has not taken place so far. Furthermore the Civil Society of both countries, not to mention affected communities who are at the core of the negotiated sphere have been left out in the process. Access to and control over resources is a major driver of development. However, an inclusive development and participatory decision making processes play a central role in reducing conflicts and establishing peace. Water as one of the most important resources for human survival can serve as both, a fundamental factor leading to development or a trigger for conflicts on a local, national and regional level. Against this backdrop, Heinrich Böll Stiftung (hbs) envisaged as part of its three-year strategic work in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2015-2017) to focus on peace building aspects of water resources management and energy transmission projects, featuring the engagement of civil society organizations in these processes. The three-year hbs project aims to engage national and regional actors from both countries in confidence building dialogs, focusing on common interests for regional cooperation and stability. It is intended to widen the scope by including further regional perspectives like China, India, Iran and Central Asia.
In a first step a network for promoting peace and stability through equitable natural resource management has been initiated. Facilitated by hbs the network is envisioned to be a platform for stakeholders, experts and civil society activists from both countries to exchange and generate knowledge on peace building instruments with a focus on the equitable and sustainable use of natural resources. Within the framework of the hbs project on “Regional Civil Society Engagement in Green Dialogs” the network will attempt to raise awareness, identify stakeholders on a governmental and non-governmental level and define common interests and strategies for involvement in both countries towards stability and cooperation.