Afghanistan and conflict are synonyms since I can remember. The conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in problems that make life harder each year. Despite the efforts of the Afghan government and international community, peace in Afghanistan is still out of sight.
Stopping conflict and violence requires a good understanding of its root causes. Considering the relation between economic development and peace building in Afghanistan, we can find out that unequal distribution of resources, unemployment, economic deprivation and most importantly lack of hope and a clear image for the future of a country have formed a cycle, which is difficult to breakthrough.
But instead of looking back, this time as I want to look at the issue from the opposite side. Imagine a situation where peace is in place and people are happy, what would have happened?
I believe many factors should be put together in order to have a peaceful country. The existence of economic opportunities is certainly one of the most important contributors. A grown number of scholars and practitioners have come to see entrepreneurship as both a job creator and a peace incubator, particularly in post-conflict settings[i]; although the conflict in Afghanistan is ongoing, it is so with a reduced level. Entrepreneurs will contribute to economic growth and can lead Afghanistan towards peace. Conflict happens in the absence of peaceful ideas. Even further, entrepreneurship is a source for innovation, solutions to problems and a thus a new image for the future of Afghanistan. It can be considered a solution to the tension brought by unemployment and lack of economic opportunity.
A growing number of entrepreneurs and a vibrant local private sector in conflict zones will contribute to peace building, as every entrepreneur and business relies on good relationships with consumers and suppliers and also can be considered as brokers for peace building. As such they can be the link between the government and the opposite side of the conflict in order to ensure a stable economic environment. This is not theory. A strong relationship between the government and entrepreneurs has supported peace in Tunisia and Columbia years ago.
Entrepreneurship as source of employment and job opportunities, as economic deprivation and unemployment can undermine peace. Most of the times those who join terrorist groups like Taliban in Afghanistan have lost a perspective for their future, often enhanced by long periods of unemployment. As government itself does not have the capacity to hire all the unemployed and usually is not itself an economic actor in terms of producing goods or providing services, the private sector and entrepreneurship in particular can fill the gap. The more entrepreneurs a community has, the more job opportunities will be created, the more innovation will be added to an economy and the more perspectives will be provided for individuals. This will lower incentives to join terrorist groups.
Now, one could say that conflict is not only caused by a lack of a future perspective but also discrimination among the different ethnic groups, like Pashtuns, Hazaras and Tajiks in Afghanistan. Discrimination can be based on many potential reasons. However, overall there is one thing all Afghan ethnics have in common and that is their desire to live in economic prosperous societies. So why not use this common ground and invest on it?
At the end, I believe the Afghan government together with the established private sector can play an important role in fostering entrepreneurship by improving the business environment, provide access to resources, offer trainings and after all promote an entrepreneurial spirit. Innovation hubs as places where entrepreneurs can collaborate, learn and operate, could function as germ cells for an entrepreneurial movement. But we should also not forget that access to capital and funding is another essential factor for a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem.
So, let’s start an entrepreneurial movement in Afghanistan so that these innovative personalities can develop solutions to existing problems and contribute to an economically stable and developed country, where each problem is seen as an opportunity!
Author: Matiullah Rahmaty
The writer is a BACCI and Afghanistan Enterprise Council advisory board member.