Entrepreneurship Key to Sustaining Peace in Afghanistan

By Matiullah Rahmaty

As far as I remember – as a millennial Afghan – Afghanistan has been synonym with conflict. The conflict in my country has resulted in problems that continuously makes life harder for the population. Despite the efforts of the Afghan government and international community, peace in Afghanistan is still out of sight.

Ending the conflict and violence requires a good understanding of its root causes. Considering the relation between economic development and peacebuilding 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 created a vicious cycle of violence, which is difficult to break through.

But instead of looking back, this time I want to look at the issue from the opposite side. I imagine a situation where peace is in place and people are happy. 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 factors. A grown number of scholars and practitioners have come to acknowledge entrepreneurship as both a job creator and a peace incubator, particularly in post-conflict settings. Although the conflict in Afghanistan is ongoing, it is so with a reduced level with the current peace negotiations between the US and the Taliban. Entrepreneurs will contribute to economic growth and can lead Afghanistan towards peace. Entrepreneurship is a source for innovation, solutions to problems and 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 peacebuilding. Entrepreneurs and businesses rely on good relationships with consumers and suppliers and also can be considered as brokers for peacebuilding. 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. For example, a strong relationship between the government and entrepreneurs has supported peace in Tunisia and Columbia years ago.

Economic deprivation and unemployment can undermine peace and entrepreneurship can be a  source of employment and job opportunities. One of the reasons those who join terrorist groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan have lost a perspective for their future, often enhanced by long periods of unemployment. In a free market economy like Afghanistan, neither the government have the capacity to hire all the unemployed population nor it should, and the private sector and entrepreneurship, in particular, can and should 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.

Notably, conflict is not only caused by lack of economic opportunities, but there are also many other factors, including political, as well as inequality among discrimination against one or other group of a population. Discrimination can take place to be based on many possible reasons and one of the reasons is economic discrimination. However, all Afghan ethnics have on thing in common and that is their desire to live in economically prosperous society. So, we can turn this problem into an opportunity. Entrepreneurship could also counter discrimination and unite all Afghan ethnicities.  So why not use this common ground and invest in it? I believe the Afghan government together with the established private sector can play an important role in fostering entrepreneurship by improving the business environment, including tackling corruption, provide access to resources, offer training and after all promote an entrepreneurial spirit. Innovation hubs as places where entrepreneurs can collaborate, learn and operate, could function as incubators for an entrepreneurial movement. Additionally, access to capital and funding is another essential factor for a successful entrepreneurial ecosystem.

There is a need for an entrepreneurial movement in Afghanistan so that these innovative personalities and companies can develop solutions to existing problems, including sustaining peace. Entrepreneurship can contribute to a peaceful Afghanistan that is economically stable and developed, where problems are seen as opportunities with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Photo credit: Ariana News.

Matiullah Rahmaty is the Founder/CEO of Bright Point Consulting Services. He contributes to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Afghanistan through his involvement in the national and international initiatives across the country. He advises the British Afghan Chamber of Commerce on important areas such as startup incubation, startup acceleration, venture capital, FinTech, co-working spaces and research into the role of entrepreneurship. 

Opinions expressed in this article are personal. Afghan Affairs does not take any institutional positions.