Afghan vice foreign minister hopes to expand ties
Afghan vice foreign minister hopes to expand ties
By Kwon Mee-yoo
As the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan pursues a path toward peace and stability after a long conflict with the Taliban, Korea played an important role in the country's reconstruction. Now, the two countries seek further cooperation in trade and commercial ties, according to the country's ranking official.
Meerwais Nab, deputy foreign minister for political affairs of Afghanistan, visited Korea from April 6 to 9 for the first-ever political consultation between the two countries.
"We had a constructive and productive discussion with Lee (Kyung-chul, Korea's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan), and meantime exchanged conversation with second vice foreign minister Choi Jong-moon. I expressed gratitude on the meaningful contribution of the Republic of Korea to the reconstruction process of Afghanistan in the last 20 years, specifically on the social development and capacity-building," Nab said at an interview with The Korea Times at a hotel in Seoul, April 8.
"We also talked of how we can work together in various areas including expanding cooperation in the United Nations and other international organizations."
Nab emphasized how Korea contributed to Afghanistan's efforts in the post-Taliban rebuilding of the country.
"South Korea mainly funded and invested in Afghanistan according to the priority of the Afghan government. I think this is the main reason of the tangible result we have from South Korea's assistance," Nab said.
"South Korea built a very effective vocational training center in Afghanistan that has already trained more than 7,000 Afghans in different fields. We have other programs on capacity-building such as afforestation, agriculture and healthcare. More importantly, we are working to see how we can adjust the next phase of our relations and how we can increase trade and commercial ties."
Despite the long distance between the two countries, Nab sees much potential in economic cooperation.
"Afghanistan is a country with a 35 million population, a perfect market for South Korean products. In the meantime, Afghanistan is rich with resources, which can be another area of cooperation, attracting South Korean investment. For example, Afghanistan has one of the world's largest lithium mines and is rich in precious stones," he said.
"We have a number of Afghan businesses already in South Korea, mostly exporting South Korean goods not just to Afghanistan but to other countries in the Middle East. Though there are security problems to attract direct investment of South Korean businesses in Afghanistan … we do have high-quality goods in Afghanistan such as dried and fresh fruit, saffron and carpet and South Korea has the market for Afghan goods."
"South Korea is also well-known for its Constitution and other laws and regulations. South Korea is one of the top countries with the implementation of those regulations. So I think there is another area of cooperation on the judiciary system between the two countries," Nab said.
Hallyu, or the Korean Wave, has also reached the Central Asian country.
"Though we are living at a far distance, Korean TV dramas are famous in Afghanistan. You might think of Afghanistan as a conservative Islamic country, the attractions of those dramas are very high. It shows that there is a cultural connection between Korea and Afghanistan," the deputy foreign minister said.
"Because of the war, in the last 42 years in Afghanistan, we were not able to explore other areas of potential cooperation. Now with our worlds getting closer with lots of interactions between South Korea and Afghanistan, we have the political commitment of the leadership of the countries to expand the relationship in all fields."
As Nab believes that people-to-people relationships are the foundation of bilateral relations, he hopes to introduce more culture of South Korea to Afghanistan and vice versa. The two countries are looking into various ways to introduce each other's culture such as providing scholarships to young Afghans to study in Korea and opening a Korean Culture Center in Afghanistan.
"We are far away from each other but have similarities. Though Afghanistan now represents the Islamic civilization and the 'Heart of Asia,' it was the epicenter of Buddhism thousands of years ago and a famous Korean monk (Hyecho) traveled to Afghanistan in the eighth century," he said.
"We know the history of Korea after World War II and understand and appreciate what Koreans have done for the last 40 years in terms of development and prosperity. You changed the status of Korean from a receiver to a donor. What Korea has experienced is very important for us. The historical similarity is another fuel in expanding our relationship.
"The cultural aspect of the relationship is very deep and there is a big potential to explore and expand. We are people and we will never forget our today and past. The Korean investment and engagement in Afghanistan is not because of the political or security agenda; because of the hardships you experienced, you want to share your wealth of knowledge and experience with other countries. We fully understand that and are really grateful for that."