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How I will rebuild my nation

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, yet its potential for growth is staggering. It possesses the resources for robust and sustained development for decades to come. In this semi-arid region, the country produces 80 billion cubic metres of water each year, but taps only 20 billion for irrigation, drinking and hydropower. Power being the critical driver of development, a regional partnership on energy initiatives could serve as the foundation of wider regional economic co-operation involving China, central Asia, Pakistan, Iran and India. Building oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan would increase speed and efficiency, and lower the cost of energy sources in Asia.

Unfortunately, the corruption of the current regime has allowed drug trafficking to flourish across borders instead. Yet rural farmers will turn away from poppy cultivation if their incomes from staple crops rise from the current level of $1 to $4 a day, and that is an achievable goal. In the short term, Nato forces, as buyers, could become the greatest friends of the Afghan farmers. As agriculture develops, regional importers of food - in the Gulf countries and particularly Iran - present huge opportunities. Were the EU to extend trade preferences to Afghan agriculture, as it has done to other countries, it would be a small chip in European agricultural policy, but a windfall here.

Afghanistan is also rich in copper, gold, gas, iron and barite, as well as gemstones such as emeralds and rubies. A mining-based economy is a real alternative, in the medium term, to the drug-based one. Both agriculture and mining depend on a reliable transport network, and so investing in the highways and railways is a priority.

A competitive national construction industry would put the country's domestic resources to effective use, and be a potential powerhouse for creating jobs and wealth.

Afghan entrepreneurs are not short of money, but withering security and growing corruption are forcing them to take their capital abroad. In my time as finance minister, we completely modernised communications in Afghanistan, but refused to offer sweetheart deals to private companies. Instead, we insisted that they pay real fees through a transparent bidding process. This year, however, the ministry acknowledged that an estimated 70 per cent of potential domestic revenue is lost to corruption and mismanagement. It will take a government truly committed to transparency, accountability and the rule of law to create a stable, business-friendly environment in Afghanistan.

Though Afghanistan has suffered from its location for nearly two centuries, it could once again become part of a golden route of commerce, as in the days of the Silk Road, and its border provinces could be transformed into hubs of economic activity. The Afghan people are ready to do business with the world. The right government could help tap the country's potential.

Ashraf Ghani, presidential candidate and former Afghan finance minister (2002-2004)

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: The Lost War

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times