A new project at the University of Central Asia (UCA) seeks to strengthen economic relations between Afghanistan and the countries of the wider region of Central Asia, by undertaking a program of policy research, dissemination and professional development for public servants.
In partnership with Aga Khan Foundation Canada (AKFC) and the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the UCA has recently launched the Regional Cooperation and Confidence Building in Afghanistan and Central Asia (RCCB) project.
“Central Asia is a region geographically and it has a common past. It has common problems [but] there is no common vision of today, let alone tomorrow,” says Prof. Bohdan Krawchenko, Director General of the UCA. “If you live in Ukraine, despite the political difficulties there, you know the European Union awaits you 10 years down the road. If you live in Central Asia, in that very difficult neighbourhood, what is your future?”
He made the remarks during a visit to Canada on June 18th and 19th, where he met with senior officials to discuss the new project.
Prof. Krawchenko has strong links to Canada. He taught at the University of Alberta and worked for many years with lawmakers in the federal and Alberta governments. He is now translating that governmental experience overseas, by overseeing the Institute of Public Policy and Administration (IPPA) – a new institution formed under UCA’s Graduate School of Development as part of the RCCB project.
“This is a very difficult topic, when you talk about Afghanistan in Central Asia everybody talks about it at the geopolitical level. It’s talked about as a problem of security, as a problem of the narcotics trade,” said Prof. Krawchenko during his visit. “But economic relations, and the possibility of economic growth underpinning a more stable political environment remains less explored.”
By engaging the governments of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan, the IPPA will help public servants improve their policy analysis and recommendations on regional cooperation, as well as offer networking and professional development opportunities.
Prof. Krawchenko says public servants from all four participating countries are keen to participate in the program.
“These are countries that frequently go into trade negotiations… with very little background in the economics of trade, trade policy, and trade negotiation,” he says. “Because this is training at a professional level that is geared very much to what they do at work, they are quite enthusiastic about this.”
The 15-month, $2.4-million RCCB project will train 60 public servants drawn from Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and the Kyrgyz Republic. The IPPA will also undertake a comprehensive research program on cooperation in Central Asia, and Prof. Krawchenko says this research will be important in mapping the economic future of Central Asia.Because of the project, he says UCA will have the largest and most systematic body of knowledge on economic relations between Central Asian countries in the world, adding, “What we are fundamentally concerned about is economic development, and the creation of conditions that will facilitate that development. Our tool is education.”