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Investing in Science and Technology: a path to economic prosperity

by: Dr Khesrow Sangarwal

For a country like Afghanistan where potential for fiscal independence and economic prosperity is severely limited by the geopolitical variables in the region, it becomes a grave requirement to explore and innovate modern avenues for growth and development. For the state to fund its essential public and governmental services, like education, health, and maintaining essential infrastructure, the policy makers need to think beyond the 5 years of promised international aid. The politicians need to realise that in order to deliver substance, they really need to do more than just local and tribal activism. The current geo-economic state of the country necessitates both political determination and economical intellect.

Historically, Afghanistan has relied on agriculture and animal husbandry as the main source of income for most of its population. However, with the current rate of population growth, and drought-ridden sub-fertileagricultural farms, the reality is fast changing. A rural Afghan farmer can no longer fund a 21st century life for his household with the limited plot of land that he has inherited from his forefather.
Industry and manufacturing has always been sparse and troubled in Afghanistan. Apart from a small industrial state in the east of Kabul, and a few manufacturing and refinery plants elsewhere in the country, there was not much to be categorised as industry in modern Afghanistan. This, to some extent, explained the fragility of state and institutions in 20thcentury Afghanistan.

One may hope that the current generation of Afghan politicians and thinkers have learnt from the past, and realised the negative implications of economic insubstantialities, and absence of strategic thinking. In reality, however, Afghan politicians display a dangerous level of strategic negligence.  I have recently read the scripts of eight speeches delivered by six different key Afghan politicians, both from the government and the opposition, to search for signs of a forward-thinking economic policy for Afghanistan. I was disappointed to find no substance to match the daunting enormity of economic challenges faced by the country. This is feeding into the current syndrome of political and military upheaval that Afghanistan suffers.

If the Afghan government and private sector want to explore and invest in self-sustaining long term economic alternatives, they need to consider seriously capitalising on science and technology. There are certain parameters in Afghanistan that enhances the country’s potential of being the science and technology hub of Central Asia. These parameters are the vast human resources,appropriate demographics, the thirst and enthusiasm for education in the young generation, and a significant market gap for entrepreneurs who want to invest in science and industry. Unfortunately, Afghan universities and state institutions have failed to devise the appropriate curricula and strategies to nurture the educational and academic media for such scientific transformation. The 2009 Afghan Government National Budget, the only budget document available on the Ministry of Finance website, has no mention of any funds allocated for developing science and technology in Afghanistan. Likewise, the Academy of Science has no visible activity when it comes to research and studying the modern sciences. The bulk of its work is linguistics and literature of Central Asian languages.

The current and prospective Afghan governments need to make special commitments to invest in science and technology. The scientific capacity of Afghanistan as a nation needs to be managed at least by a dedicated ministry in Afghan cabinets, as opposed to being butchered between different institutions. Science and research has always stimulated growth, and materialised economic prosperity. There are many reasons to believe that Afghanistan is no exception to that experience.

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