This 9/11 Anniversary Brings Afghan War to the Forefront

9/11 is undoubtedly a tragic and disturbing act of terrorism on US soil, but it acted as a wake-up call for American policymakers at the same time. It is a logical conclusion that the horrible events of that day would not have happened had the US not walked away from the region once their interests were victorious after a prolonged proxy war against the Soviet Union (1979-1989).

After 19 years of conflict, Afghan negotiators headed to Doha for the intra-Afghan dialogues, an initiative started by the United States as they act as the catalyst between the two warring parties- the Taliban and the Afghan government being the most prominent third-party mediator.

Two days before 9/11, the National Hero of Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Massoud was assassinated by al-Qaeda in Takhar-Afghanistan. The legendary fighter who battled the Soviets and later the Taliban, warned months before his death, that a large-scale attack is underway on the US and Europe soil by al-Qaida. Either the US neglected to grasp the full picture of the attack or did not get enough intel to act and prevent the catastrophe.

Since the commencement of the 19-year long War on Terror, the US has played a pivotal role in ending the Afghan conflict, having as many as 100,000 troops stationed there as part of the 2009 surge. Over $2 trillion USD has been spent on infrastructure, counter-terrorism operations, and building the Afghan National Defense Security Forces to reach a 360,000-strong force, as originally envisioned. This combination of nation-building and counterterrorism has cost the US heavily — financially as well as the 2400 American troops who have lost their lives.

Despite the failures to form strong Afghan institutions and violence of the past nearly two decades, tremendous progress has taken place. Today, an estimated 3.5 million Afghan girls are enrolled in school, a stark contrast to the 50,000 that were enrolled during the Taliban’s reign.

The Taliban governed for five years (1996-2001) and instituted barbaric Islamist policies, such as banning girls from school and stoning women to death. In the 1990s, they provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, turning Afghanistan into a safe haven for terrorist groups, seeking ‘an entry to heaven.’ Infamous leaders such as Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the founder and leader of the Islamic State) used Afghanistan as a strategic transit point. Terror groups used Afghanistan as the logistic headquarters for deadly attacks in Kenya and Tanzania as well as the orchestration of 9/11.

The push from the Trump administration to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, with the latest US-Taliban deal reached earlier this year may result in further destabilization. An exit strategy is not always the best strategy. Important questions arise: Will the Taliban remain loyal to their promises? Will there be a guaranteed agreement that the Taliban will no longer harbor terrorism and plan attacks on US soil?

An exit from Afghanistan would result in the creation of another battleground for terrorism. Similar to the vacuum of power created by a lack of American interest in the early 1990s, parallel circumstances would emerge now. The Taliban were enabled to usurp power and consequently turn the country into a safe haven for Islamist extremism back then and thus it remains imperative that the US understands what is at stake if they decide to completely leave Afghanistan now. The Taliban is estimated to have 60,000 active fighters and control roughly 50-70 percent of Afghan territory. They maintain a feared presence across the entire country, and international support for law and order against them is starting to dwindle.

Additionally, the current global political atmosphere commands that the United States adapt its commitments within Afghanistan and focus greater attention towards the East. China continues its ascendance and an ever-stronger India are taking their places on the world stage. Given that the US rivals in the region, primarily Russia, China, and Iran also compete in the region, another regional power may quickly supplant their former position and advance to this strategic location.

The Taliban are not going to cut ties with al-Qaeda and the Afghan peace process is unexpected to reach a conclusion soon. Both require time and commitment. It is vital that the next US presidential administration retains a small presence of US troops (as low as 4000) in combination with intelligence operators and diplomats to ensure promises are kept over the next few years. As well, these factors are important in the elimination of terror cells. A new US strategy may also focus on the proper allocation of resources to further avoid wasting US taxpayer money and systematic corruption in Afghanistan.

Finally, as the Taliban are making peace, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – Khorasan Province (ISK, ISP, or Daesh-Khorasan) — continues to gain strength through deadly attacks just as the Taliban remain engaged with the Afghan government. It is imperative to devote attention to their rise and activities in this general analysis. Further IS-K has been regrouping and the radical Taliban fighters who opposed the US-Taliban agreement can create a combination of “Islamic Emirate, Caliphate” as their objective.

Given that the Taliban’s main supply route for both personnel and weapons is through Pakistan, the insurgency group can and will continue to fight as long as they have support and safe-havens in Pakistan. They can do so by blocking foreign fighters and state-sponsors of terrorism in interfering in the Afghan peace talks. Further, they can use their diplomatic expertise to ensure that foreign actors, push the Taliban to join the negotiation table.

A stable Afghanistan benefits the region and protects the United States from any potential 9/11 style attacks in the future.

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is the Founder of Rise to Peace, a Washington-based counter-terrorism organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ahmadsmohibi

NeverForget 9/11

Intra-Afghan Talks: What Does Pakistan Want?

Among the prevalent foreign actors involved in Afghanistan’s peace process, few have as a large of stake as Pakistan. The ascension of General Zia Ul-Haq, who served as Pakistan’s President from 1978-1988, was followed by an assertive foreign policy that sought to protect, and enlarge, Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan. Long-standing issues, ranging from territorial disputes across the Durand Line, to Afghanistan’s historically friendly ties with India, had come to define what was, and remains, a testy relationship between Kabul and Islamabad.

Yet, in the backdrop of the Cold War, the opportunity for Pakistan to redefine its interests coincided with the arrival of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Buttressed by political support from the United States, coupled with financial support from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan served as the primary conduit with the Mujahedin throughout its war with the Soviets.

Through the flow of aid and provisions of training and supplies, Pakistan’s relationship with the Mujahedin evolved beyond the original mission to oust the Afghan government and defeat the Soviets. Instead, Pakistan’s influence increasingly took on an ideological nature, with the political stylings of General Zia’s religious nationalism serving as inspiration for the Taliban and its fundamentalist movement.

The emergence of a Taliban government in Afghanistan represented a rare and significant victory for Pakistan’s sphere of influence, much of which had gradually eroded within South Asia throughout the Cold War. Among other objectives, a pro-Pakistani government in Afghanistan created opportunities to curb India’s influence and even use Afghan territory to provide training, logistical support, and safe haven to militants from Indian Kashmir.

While pressure from the international community may have forced Pakistan into a far more muted relationship with the Taliban, its strategic objectives and interests in Afghanistan has not undergone much change from its original position. For Pakistan, the intra-Afghan talks present an opportunity to shape the post-peace trajectory of Afghanistan. Within this stage of negotiation, Pakistan’s core aims are as follows: Political legitimacy for the Taliban, tempered Indian influence, US approval for a peace agreement, subsequently followed by a very gradual US troop withdrawal.

Having earned plaudits for its efforts to mediate and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table, Pakistan’s next moves will increasingly focus on integrating the Taliban into Afghanistan’s political fabric. Doing so, under a peace agreement, would legitimize the Taliban as a political entity and give Pakistan more flexibility in openly lending its support to pro-Pakistani elements across Afghanistan.

If the Taliban is to accede to a genuine DDR (disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration) process, it will likely demand the opportunity to participate politically as a formalized party in all levels of Afghan elections. An alternative route to sustaining the Taliban’s political influence may come in the form of a power-sharing arrangement, where the Taliban embeds itself more deeply into the Afghan state, through the presence of its members in the civil service and key ministries. In either case, such a scenario would be a boon for Pakistan, providing an avenue for which elements of the Taliban would be able to legitimately obtain power, and represent Pakistani interests.

In addition to transitioning the Taliban into a legitimate political entity, Pakistan’s foreign policy objectives remain heavily driven by its animosity with India. Since the Partition of India in 1947, Afghanistan has been a staunch ally of the Indian government, with the Taliban’s brief tenure serving as an anomaly. While it is unlikely to rid Afghanistan of pro-Indian influence, the integration of the Taliban would at the very minimum, modulate India’s influence. Thus, ensuring Afghanistan’s neutrality in any future Indo-Pakistani conflicts would represent a win for Pakistan.

Finally, the principal objective of any forthcoming peace agreement will necessitate the approval of the United States. The US approval would grant Pakistan peace of mind to pursue its interests in Afghanistan openly without fears of punitive sanctions by the US, or additional scrutiny from intergovernmental organizations like the Financial Action Task Force, which is charged with curbing terrorism funding and helps inform the policies of state actors. Having brokered the US-Taliban peace deal in February, Pakistan remains cognizant of America’s fatigue with the war in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, halting a hasty withdrawal by the Americans is critical to Pakistan’s own security concerns across the Durand Line. Fears of resurgent Pashtun nationalism seeping into Pakistan’s borders would pose an endemic threat in its restive northernmost provinces.

The past two years have featured some of the most momentous events in Afghanistan’s peacebuilding process. Having long been beholden to direct and indirect influence by foreign actors, Afghanistan will not only have to balance the interests of its internal parties, but also the interests of external players, like Pakistan’s military and security establishment. In the absence of a peace deal that meets its criteria, Pakistan may instead find itself in favor of the status quo, an outcome that would represent a devastating blow to the prospect of peace in Afghanistan.

Small Steps Towards Reconciliation Matter: Lessons from Croatia

Reconciliation is often lauded as a key objective of any discussions intent on ending conflict, but it often remains elusive decades after the conclusion of decisive battles. Hesitancy to overcome hurdles that impede reconciliation are rooted in the fact that traumatic experiences typical of war are experienced differently according to national affiliation, ethnicities and dominant historical narratives. A recent event at a commemoration ceremony in Knin, Croatia highlights the reality that the path towards reconciliation is arduous and controversial, but even the smallest of steps forward matter.


Each August, Croatian politicians gather to commemorate Operacija Oluja (Operation Storm). It is important to first acknowledge the events of this battle and its repercussions to fully examine the question of reconciliation later; therefore, one must place this confrontation in the wider context of the Croatian War of Independence (1991-1995).

In the simplest of explanations, the ‘Homeland War’ as it is known to Croats pitted independent Croatian forces against the Serbian-controlled Jugoslovenska narodna armija (Yugoslav National Army) as well as local affiliated Serb forces as part of the greater breakup of Yugoslavia. Croatia proclaimed independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, but local Serb rebels disagreed. Their subsequent military campaign to ensure Croatian territory remained a part of Yugoslavia captured over one third of the country — the proto-state of Republika Srpska Krajina— and displaced over 500,000 Croatians and other non-Serbs.

Operacija Oluja, conducted between August 4-7, 1995, is acknowledged as the decisive battle between the Hrvatska vojska (Croatian Army) and rebel forces of the Republic of Serbian Krajina that ultimately ended in favor of Croatian independence. Nonetheless, as in other cases of recent wars in the Balkans, accusations of war crimes deeply complicate how this battle and the wider war is reflected upon according to ethnicity.

International media showcased photographs and footage of some of the 200,000 Serbs that fled Croatia in what would become a serious humanitarian and refugee crisis. Hundreds of Serb pensioners were killed in the months after the operation. Much of the property left behind was looted, seized and sometimes burned. It is for these reasons that Serbs in the region cannot view Operacija Oluja in the same gusto or celebration as their Croatian neighbours. There are understandably disparate views on how such anniversaries should be viewed and these sentiments remain entrenched in local populaces.

25th Anniversary

Commemoration this year took on a unique tone as it was not only the 25th anniversary of Operacija Oluja, but for the first time an ethnic Serb politician in Croatia attended the memorial service. The appearance of Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milošević has been widely viewed as a small step towards reconciliation on a day that often pushes unresolved traumas to the forefront. For context, the grandmother of Milošević was killed during the incursion, so these matters undeniably hit close to home not only for him, but others in the Serb minority in Croatia.

However, there were undeniable conciliatory messages about the need to recognize the anguish of the past, but to move towards peaceful co-existence in the regional journey towards prosperity. Milošević stated that the “time has come for the politics of understanding and of respecting each other to defeat the politics of hatred.” This opinion was echoed by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković who hoped that the first-time attendance by an ethnic Serb would “send a new message for Croatian society, relations between Croatians and Serb minority” and “between Croatia and Serbia.” Sentiments such as these are welcome after a quarter century of apprehensive relations.

On the other hand, nationalism and ethnic grievances still remain insofar that the attendance of Milošević was not universally applauded. Across the border, in Serbia, media lambasted the statements by the aforementioned leadership. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić unequivocally expressed that, “We do not want to celebrate the tragedy of the Serbian people and Serbia will never accept humiliation” whilst speaking at a memorial service that too recognized Operacija Oluja, albeit in a different manner and narrative. This statement by Vučić succinctly embodied very real hurdles deeply felt by peoples affected by conflict that make it seem reconciliation remains out of reach.

While Serbo-Croatian relations — either bilaterally between Belgrade and Zagreb or in the context of a Serbian minority in Croatia — may be considered a niche cause without wider implications, that is simply not true. Lessons can be learned from this one particular case study and thus considered in states with past or ongoing internal conflicts.

Broad Lessons

The concept of reconciliation after a period of war or ethnic strife is often bandied about as the ultimate objective by even the most well-intentioned peacemakers, but it must be viewed with the same seriousness as more distinct solutions and identifiable benchmarks. First and foremost, it is not immediate and outside actors cannot induce it until local populations are ready themselves. Those that have suffered through actions committed by national armed forces, rebel groups or extremist non-state actors have the right to remain reluctant to trust the opposition or even be willing to easily let go of their trauma. The addition of divergent ethnic narratives or religious affiliation of specific events further complicate entrenched feelings. Many seek legal accountability at relevant tribunals as an avenue, but this too is a drawn-out process. Reconciliation happens at its own pace and in the right context.

Secondly, there must be a focus on grassroots cooperation and a means for affected peoples to openly discuss any impediments to compromise and understanding. Younger generations may not have experienced the shocks of their elders, but ethnic narratives shared within communities often keep invisible barriers intact. In order for this to occur, a willingness to listen and take accountability for past infringements in the most benign manner is required. This is obviously easier said than done, but it is best achieved by civilians willing to foment coexistence through education and engagement within their respective multi-ethnic states. It is only then that tides shift at the higher echelons of governance, and reactions such as those to the attendance of Milošević in Knin will be a thing of the past.

Reconciliation is a requirement for states and societies to move past painful events that have significantly marked their history. As the case discussed here illustrates, it can take decades to reach a point for one party to make the first move — even a small act in the grand scheme of ethnic dynamics — but this should not dishearten those intent on a durable resolution and beneficial cooperation.

Reforming Afghanistan’s Higher Education Institutions

Among the institutions most affected by Afghanistan’s incessant conflict over the past four decades, few have endured as much damage as the country’s educational system. Throughout King Zahir Shah’s 40-year reign and the subsequent Communist governments that ruled Afghanistan after him, the country’s higher education system was lauded for the quality of its institutions and the high representation of females, both within the student body and faculty ranks.

The invasion by Soviet forces in the late 1970s led to an exodus of teachers, coupled with the physical destruction of schools and universities, which were often used as bunkers during the war. Throughout the Taliban’s tenure, changes in curriculum and the practice of barring females from educational opportunities reversed much of the hard-fought progress that had at one point, made Afghanistan’s higher education system one of the most advanced across Central and South Asia.

Today, efforts geared toward restoring Afghanistan’s higher education infrastructure require capital investment in facilities, specifically for labs and research centers, in addition to recruiting and retaining high-quality faculty. Whereas most contemporary higher education systems typically require a Master’s degree as a minimum requirement for faculty, survey data over the past decade reveals that well over half of Afghanistan’s higher education faculty possess just a Bachelor’s degree.

Though offerings of graduate programs have grown, they still lag considerably, compelling many of Afghanistan’s brightest minds to continue their education abroad in neighboring countries. India, as one example, remains a predominant destination for Afghan students. India’s geographic proximity, affordability, and exponential growth in postsecondary institutions make the country an attractive option. Yet, while many of these graduates often return with aspirations of joining Afghanistan’s civil service, the double-edged sword of Afghans seeking an education abroad has led to the chronic issue of “brain drain”, where young, high-skilled Afghans depart the country, with no intent to return.

Building capacity in Afghanistan’s colleges and universities is an integral part of the country’s reconstruction efforts. In just the first decade after the collapse of the Taliban government, enrollment in Afghan tertiary institutions increased by 115%, showing the domestic appetite for quality education. Yet, with just under half of the country’s territory occupied or under threat, most of Afghanistan’s higher education institutions remain heavily concentrated in just a handful of areas.

Given the correlation between geography and ethnicity, diffusing educational opportunities across Afghanistan’s most insecure provinces will be critical to preserving harmony between the majority Pashtuns and the various minority ethnic groups. Though admission quotas exist for disadvantaged students, they are not enough to remedy the acute economic and political disparities that exist between ethnic groups. In addition to filling the gaps between ethnic groups, Afghan females are also poised to benefit from expanded access to higher education. At present, females already have begun to outnumber their male colleagues in some university departments. Unlocking further opportunities would provide a boost to the female labor participation rate and provide additional economic security for Afghan households.

Given the implications of its expansive mandate, the Ministry of Higher Education’s post-peace plans will have to prioritize the expansion of institutions, while also ensuring quality control. Privatization in Afghanistan’s education system has incentivized investment and expansion, yet in the absence of a rigorous accreditation system, private institutions may offer substandard quality at a higher cost. Ensuring managed growth and a quality educational experience will yield the best results in the long-term.

Furthermore, a functioning higher education system is essential for industrialization and retaining homegrown talent. Universities can serve as useful hubs for agglomeration, where businesses and institutions cluster to collaborate and benefit from nearby talent. The opportunity for enterprising Afghans is laden in the country’s erratic, but substantial growth that has taken place in the last 20 years. Opportunities in the extractive, manufacturing, and services sectors will all necessitate domestic know-how to generate the optimal return-on-investment for Afghanistan’s economy.

Given Afghanistan’s youthful population, where over 40% of the population is under the age of 15, the future outcomes of the intra-Afghan talks will have implications for generations to come.  Providing an accessible and rigorous education provides the best path toward reconstruction and the prevention of future conflicts.

The Afghan Future Looks Promising After Decisions at the Loya Jirga

With Final Prisoner Release, Afghanistan Takes a Giant Step Toward Peace

Originally published at The Diplomat

At long last, the Afghan government and the Taliban are ready to start their long-delayed peace talks.

The Afghan Loya Jirga (grand assembly) approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners on Sunday, and President Ashraf Ghani endorsed the decision. This hopefully paves the way for the intra-Afghan talks between Afghan delegates and the Taliban insurgency, aimed at ending the 19 years of war.

“I look forward to the intra-Afghan dialogues,” said Khalid Noor, the youngest member of the Afghan negotiating team. He added, “I believe it’s going to start in the next few days.”

On Monday, the Taliban and the Afghan government agreed on August 16 as the start date for the intra-Afghan dialogues. The 21 members of the Afghan negotiation team headed by Massoum Stanikzai (former chief of the National Directorate of Security) is likely to depart Afghanistan for Doha, Qatar once the prisoners are released — as early as tomorrow.

The 400 prisoners were the last of a group of 5,000 whose release was promised in the U.S.-Taliban peace deal, signed on February 29. The Afghan government was hesitant to release these last prisoners for various reasons, from a lack of presidential constitutional authority to a desire to hold the prisoners responsible for their actions as well as a need for leverage for the Afghan government after the U.S.-Taliban deal.

Read the full article on the website of The Diplomat

Ahmad Shah Mohibi is the Founder of Rise to Peace

Personal Reflections on the Tragedy in Beirut

Editor’s Note: Rise to Peace Research Fellow Cameron Hoffman has a close connection with Beirut, Lebanon. He spoke with some of his friends that experienced the August 4th blast and they offered their candid insights. When placed into the context of political and state security, the explosion took on more meaning than just a tragedy. These are personal reflections that will hopefully lead to an enhanced interest in the Lebanese crisis in our readers.

On August 4, a massive explosion rocked the city of Beirut, Lebanon. Improper storage of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate — an extremely explosive chemical that is found in fertilizers — ignited and caused a blast that left 135 people dead, over 5000 wounded, and displaced over 300,000. Damages are estimated to be approximately $ 15 billion USD.

This day hit very close to home as I spent my summers living in Beirut and still have friends there to this day. I spoke with them a day after the catastrophe only to learn that many members of the church I attended experienced extensive damage to their homes and one close friend is hospitalized after glass pierced his liver following the explosion. As well, the building of the church I attended (over 2.5 miles from the blast site) had its windows shattered into the sanctuary area (sitting area where pews are located). There is significant need for basic supplies like food and water.

Grief and pain turned to rage in the days following the explosion. It became increasingly clear that the accident was easily avoidable if it was not for the level of corruption and mismanagement typical of the Lebanese government. A growing number of e-mails and public court documents show that many government officials knew that the ammonium nitrate seized from a Russian vessel was improperly stored and extremely dangerous for over six years.

The Lebanese people blame the government for the disaster. My friend Moufid said that citizens can no longer tolerate the apathy, mismanagement and corruption any longer. Another friend, Jenny, stated that the protesters and people in general may be unsure of direct responsibility, but they are “fed up” with the whole system and want accountability. She offered that the explosion was merely a “cherry on top” of the deteriorating economic and political situation in Lebanon — a situation that drew millions into the streets before COVID-19 sent them back into their homes.

Indeed, this is a turning point for the Lebanese government. Popular calls for revolution continue to grow and French president Emmanuel Macron — who is overseeing French aid to Lebanon — berated the Lebanese political system as corrupt and in need of “deep change.” His trip to Beirut, and subsequent speeches, echoed the chants of hundreds of protesters that flocked in the streets. He called the explosion “a metaphor for Lebanon’s current crisis,” and said that Lebanon was in need of “a new political order.” Further, Macron stressed the need for an audit of the central bank. He expressed, “If there is no audit of the central bank, in a few months there will be no more imports and then there will be a lack of fuel and of food.”

Additionally, France is organizing an international conference to raise support and assistance for Lebanon, and all funds raised will be handled with “full transparency.” Macron stated that, “there will be no blank checks to a system that does not have the trust of its own people,” and that Lebanese leaders must provide “answers to freedom, reform, and anti-corruption.”

In asking Jenny what she thought was needed for Lebanon to recover she said, “we need new politicians. To start from scratch and remove the current structure and corruption. The people are not going to be fooled anymore, and the corrupt politicians need to be taken to court.” She is one of thousands of young adults who feel the same sentiment.

The event is undoubtedly catastrophic, but hopefully it will lead to changes that the Lebanese people desperately need and deserve. Moufid summarized his thoughts about the future, “We Lebanese are used to destruction and rebuilding again. I believe that God will use this [the explosion] in a way to help rebuild the economy. They will need to rebuild the port as its important to our economy, but we will come back.  It’s natural for us.”

Remittances: Reverberations for Conflict-Ridden Regions

Since the start of the 21st century, the world economy’s reliance on remittances has risen sharply as globalization enabled growth that created favorable incentives for migration through several emerging markets. Remittances, which refer to transfer payments made by foreign workers to their families back home, have benefitted both the likes of high-growth economies, like China and India, as well as weaker states that failed to attract investment due to incessant conflict and instability. In total, remittances (as a % of Gross Domestic Product) have increased by 105% since 1999, fueling household consumption and stepping in as a guarantor of financial security for vulnerable families located in fragile and/or underdeveloped states.

Yet, with lockdowns across the globe interrupting economic activity, the flow of remittances that sustain countries rife with crime, terrorism, and violence has been disrupted. As a result, countries with a high dependency on remittances will be forced to rely on the decisions made by foreign governments, of which they have no influence over. In addition, state-sponsored efforts to monitor and impose mandatory quarantines have disproportionately targeted migrants, limiting their movements, and in many cases, using the opportunity to impose draconian immigration reform to placate political aims.

As one example, Malaysia, which hosts nearly 5 million migrant workers (documented and undocumented), has been particularly aggressive in its COVID-19 response. As a popular destination for workers from a variety of South and East Asia countries, Malaysia’s raids of areas filled with migrants has attracted scrutiny. An Al-Jazeera documentary featuring the experiences of migrants was subsequently responded to with a police investigation of the journalists, followed by accusations of sedition and defamation. One migrant in particular who chose to share his experience with the Al-Jazeera journalists was the subject of a 2-week police manhunt that culminated in his arrest and planned deportation. Similar state-sponsored efforts targeting migrant workers have been cited in other popular migrant destinations like the United States, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon, among several others.

With migrants unable to earn, the potential economic reverberations will extend far beyond the borders of states that employ, and depend upon, migrant labor. Though several variables can be used to describe remittance-dependent economies, these countries tend to fall in one (or both) of the following categories:

  1. Countries that have struggled to industrialize, leading to a weak manufacturing base. This is often due to, or followed by poor job growth and a lack of diversification beyond the agricultural sector. Examples of such countries would include Tonga, Haiti, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan.
  2. Countries that are ridden with incessant conflict and chronic crime & terrorism. Such conditions drive the labor supply (particularly younger workers) to work abroad, either in nearby regional hubs or on other continents. Example countries in this category include Yemen, Palestine, South Sudan, and El Salvador.

Should remittance volumes continue to recede in the developing world, the consequences could be vast. Data compiled by the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD), estimates that global remittances could drop by as much as $110 Billion USD, or 20% of the annual total. Sixty countries, ranging from low-income to middle-income, depend on remittances for at least 5% of their respective GDP. Furthermore, remittances are responsible for contributing tax revenue for governments, which in turn, provide funding for varied public services, many of which have become only more integral during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the absence of substantial foreign direct investment or multilateral aid, the timeline for recovery will last longest in the countries with the most acute needs. Though aid and investment remain vital sources of capital for low and middle-income countries, they are both dwarfed by the substantial inflows brought in by remittances. In the last year alone, remittances have accounted for $550 billion USD worth of funds in such countries.

Regardless of the circumstances, the consistent flow of remittances is vital for sustaining consumption and keeping businesses afloat in remittance-dependent countries. The inability to maintain remittances can result in cascading economic damage. A failure to induce job creation is one of the most oft-cited conditions that can foment, or accelerate, violence through spikes in crime and terrorism. Conflict hotspots in the Sahel region, Gulf region, East Africa, and South Asia are particularly vulnerable, given their outsized regional dependence on remittances to fulfill the most basic living standards.

To help pare the ripple effects that a drop in remittances would create, a handful of solutions could prove useful. First, governments with the capacity to enact stimulus efforts can indirectly assist migrant laborers. Stimulus programs can boost consumption, incentivizing companies that employ migrants to maintain their payrolls to meet market demand. Second, the costs associated with transferring funds across borders can amount between 7-10% in fees. State-led efforts to reduce these cross-border transfer fees ensures that more money reaches the intended recipient(s). Though efforts to establish a global compact are underway, more collaboration is required between those nations that send remittances, and those that receive them.

Ensuring that migrants are equipped with the tools needed to weather the pandemic is not just a humanitarian issue, but an economic one that sets the stage for a quicker post-pandemic transition. Businesses located in migrant-dependent economies, like those found in Southeast Asia and the Gulf region, will not be able to fulfill their workforce needs from domestic labor. Instead, these countries may find themselves competing for the very same migrants they turned away, delaying the opportunity for a global economic recovery.

Rise to Peace