Reaffirming Our Commitment to Afghanistan
By Sayed Aziz Azimi
As I sat at my desk in Kabul on Sunday, April 15, 2012 watching Taliban rocket-propelled grenades slam into ISAF headquarters down the block, my first thoughts were for the safety of my employees. Sunday is a working day in Afghanistan and Ti’s Kabul headquarters was full of staff members going about their normal jobs. With 17 major projects underway for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other clients, we could hardly let the dramatic events outside our building distract us from our work.
At the same time, I worried that these latest attacks would further weaken public support for the Afghan war and reconstruction effort, and precipitate a rush to the exits by ISAF military forces. Next to go would be the international donors, aid workers, and private businesses that have done so much to build the new Afghanistan.
Two weeks later, I was back in Washington when President Obama travelled to Kabul and met with President Karzai to sign the new U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership agreement. I believe this document will profoundly influence the future development of Afghanistan. At some future point we may even look back on this event as one of the critical milestones in the fight against terrorism and for prosperity and good governance in this country.
Looking Beyond Security
Most commentators have focused on the security guarantees in the agreement, and for good reason. Even as the Afghan security forces become more capable of defending their own country, they will continue to need some level of U.S military support for years to come. Designating Afghanistan a “major non-NATO ally” of the United States sends a strong message that the Taliban or al Qaeda will not be able simply to wait out the departure of foreign military troops.
As an entrepreneur, however, I consider the paragraphs on social and economic development to be the heart of the strategic partnership agreement. It is here that a compelling vision of a peaceful and prosperous modern Afghanistan begins to take shape. The agreement recognizes that the “consolidation and growth of a market economy” is the key to sustainable economic growth. It pledges additional U.S. support for badly needed infrastructure improvements, expanded transportation and trade networks, the prudent management of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, and a strong banking system. It acknowledges the importance of higher education and vocational training, especially for women, and renews the effort to “fight decisively against all forms of corruption.”
I brought my company into Afghanistan in 2004 not only to pursue what seemed to be a good business opportunity (it was) but to do my fair share in rebuilding the land of my birth. As proud as I am of the great work Ti has done all across the country, I am even prouder of the outstanding Afghan colleagues, employees, and partners I have worked with over the past eight years. Ti has made major investments in capacity building and training—and the payback has been beyond our expectations.
New Focus on Development
For that reason, Ti has decided to expand greatly our work in the development sphere. While engineering and construction management will remain core business activities, Ti is now pursuing projects where we can provide technical assistance and expert advice in such areas as capacity building, local and regional governance, and business start-ups. One thing that will never change, however, is Ti’s commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan build their own strong foundations for a better future.