Lithuanian diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas, the European Union's (EU) outgoing Ambassador to Afghanistan, says that the progress made in the country is evident, yet fragile and still to be secured.
In an interview to BNS on Monday, the last day of his term, he stressed that the 2014 presidential election will be highly important in the efforts to achieve a greater degree of stability.
"The progress made over the past several years is obvious but fragile and unsecured," Ušackas said after heading the EU mission in Kabul for 3.5 years.
In his words, the natural resource-rich Afghanistan could grow to thrive over a few decades.
"Afghanistan is on the Mendeleev Table with the largest amounts of oil, gold, coal, gas, lithium, rare metals, etc. The country has the potential of becoming the Qatar or the United Arab Emirates of Central Asia," the outgoing ambassador said.
He said this would take security, stability, infrastructure, and a favorable legal base, in addition to qualified bureaucracy and labor force.
"I am realistic and understand well that even in a favorable situation, Afghanistan will require several decades to come where the United Arab Emirates or Qatar were 30 years ago. However, if we helped the country draw guidelines of economic and political development in this direction, it is already a great achievement," he said.
At the same time, the ambassador said that Afghans will receive more than 6 billion US dollars in aid from the international community and will have to fight corruption, improve women's situation and rights, build a favorable environment for domestic and foreign investments.
"By creating preconditions for development of stability, the EU and other countries have committed themselves to supporting Afghanistan financially, strengthening security forces and administrative capacities for the coming 10 years. We will also help and support the reconciliation process executed by Afghans," Usackas said.
According to Ušackas, constructive role of countries in the region to achieve the peace agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban is very important.
"The peace process will have to ensure respect of human rights, military actions and discontinued connections with international terrorist organizations, as well as abidance by the Constitution of Afghanistan," he said.
Lithuania should join new NATO mission
Lithuania would benefit from participating in a new NATO training mission and appointing a commercial attaché to Kabul, Ušackas believes.
"Lithuania should continue a few ways of participation in Afghanistan," the diplomat told BNS on the last day of his term as EU ambassador to Kabul.
"Firstly, supporting the training of Afghanistan's military forces by participating in the NATO Resolute Support mission. Secondly, keeping a special diplomatic mission in Kabul, appointing a commercial attaché to help Lithuanian companies find business niches and participate in rebuilding and investment projects in the country and the region," Ušackas said.
In his words, Lithuania should also continue development cooperation projects via EU programs and share regional cooperation experience.
During its EU Council presidency in the second half of 2013, Lithuania may influence the discussion among EU member-states on EU policies regarding Afghanistan and the rest of the region after 2014, according to the diplomat.
"Our continued participation will not only give meaning to our long-term support for Afghanistan and create additional preconditions for the political and economic agenda and search for potentially joint projects, and realization of the projects with countries of special importance, India, China, Russia, Pakistan and maybe later with Iran, countries in Central Asia, etc. The Lithuanian participation to support further development of Afghanistan and the region will reinforce our credential as a reliable partner and ally of NATO and the EU," Ušackas said.
Lithuania will shortly finish its mission in Afghanistan's Ghor province that it started in 2005. The main task of the civilian and military mission was to help the Afghan administration to expand its influence in the province, ensure security and create suitable conditions for provincial reconstruction.
Lithuania operates a Special Operations Squadron in southern Afghanistan, Lithuanian troops also train Afghan helicopter pilots in Kandahar, small groups of Lithuanian soldiers also serve in a few other locations.
The NATO-led international mission will withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The United States and Afghanistan are currently negotiating an agreement that would allow NATO to continue a smaller training mission after 2014.
On September 1, Ušackas will take the post of EU ambassador to Russia.