To transform Afghanistan into a regional economic hub, the United States must emphasize that the idea originated not in Washington, but in Kabul. Going forward, Afghanistan and its neighbors will have to take the lead in determining what projects are built and when.
A map of ancient trade routes in South Asia.
In December 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a military surge against al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. That mission was complemented by a civilian surge to bolster the government, economy, and civil society of Afghanistan and the states throughout its neighborhood. The dual surges laid the foundation for what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined at an address to the Asia Society last February: an intensified diplomatic effort to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process with insurgents. This diplomatic surge is meant to seek an end to the Afghan conflict and chart a new, more secure future for the region.
The United States and its international partners have begun to transfer responsibility for Afghanistan's security to the Afghan National Security Forces, as was agreed last November in Lisbon. As Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced on November 26, nearly half of the population will be under Afghan security responsibility in the near future, and by the end of 2014, security throughout the whole of the country will be the responsibility of the Afghans themselves.
But there are risks in any such transformation. As World Bank President Robert Zoellick has pointed out, transition in postconflict societies has too often brought unintentional economic hardship. To sustain the many gains that Afghans have achieved over the past decade, and to advance the United States' long-term partnership with the Afghan government, Washington and our allies and partners must focus on the future of Afghanistan's economy.
Afghanistan's political and economic futures are linked. That is why Congress and the U.S. people have provided generous assistance to build Afghan capacity. And we are working closely with the Afghan government to wean the Afghan economy off international assistance and lay the foundation for sustainable, private-sector-led growth. As part of this effort, Afghanistan must be firmly integrated into the economic life of its region. A secure, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan can exist only in the context of a secure, stable, and prosperous neighborhood. That is the premise of what Clinton and others are calling the "new Silk Road."