Sheikh Khalifa’s Lasting Legacy in Afghanistan
The Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan residential area in the Afghan capital of Kabul stands as a symbol of the late UAE leader’s love for Afghanistan and its people. In 2010, when I was Director of Planning and Policy at the Afghan Ministry of Urban Development Affairs, I was involved in the project at its inception. This involved frequent communication and coordination with the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development. We mainly focused on terms and conditions and design and implementation modalities. I resigned from the ministry in mid-2011 while the project was still under negotiation.
Due to the high rate of urbanization, rural-urban migration and rapid economic growth in the wake of the new Afghan government taking over in 2002, Afghan cities, especially Kabul, have faced severe housing shortages, with demand far outstripping supply. The situation has caused an exponential increase in housing costs, both rental and purchase. While Kabul’s upper and middle classes could rent or buy decent housing, most of the city’s population could not afford it and often ended up in slums.
A timely move by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development to finance a housing project in Kabul was a great gesture of goodwill. The project was designed to provide affordable housing for low-income civil servants. Sadly, much of the housing ended up going to those who worked at the presidential palace and others close to former president Hamid Karzai and his relatives. Surprisingly, some parliamentarians and senior civil servants also received accommodation as favors or political bribes. This may be very typical of Afghan politics, but it drew criticism from the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development, which had hoped the project would benefit the most needy civil servants.
Despite inequities in the distribution of apartments, the project has set an example for other countries by investing in the housing sector in Afghanistan. And some low-income civil servants have benefited from the scheme. Later, in 2015, the Chinese government announced a similar housing program for low-income civil servants, followed by the government of Qatar.
When Sheikh Khalifa inherited the political capital from his charismatic father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, on becoming President of the United Arab Emirates in 2004, he faced multiple challenges. He needed the support of the political establishment, the people of the UAE and the international community. He knew how to gain the confidence of each of them. He followed in his father’s footsteps in continuing the UAE’s journey of progress, development and success.
Afghans have a long association with the United Arab Emirates as investors, business people, visitors and workers, in addition to warm feelings of affection for the government and people of the country. They have positively contributed to the economic development and progress of the United Arab Emirates and are a fine addition to its diverse cultural landscape. During Sheikh Khalifa’s tenure as President of the UAE, relations between Afghanistan and the UAE further developed in terms of trade, connectivity and political engagement.
He followed in his father’s footsteps in continuing the UAE’s journey of progress, development and success.
Unfortunately, successive governments in Afghanistan have not been able to take full advantage of the country’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates. The continued political instability that ultimately led to the complete collapse of the government last August is partly responsible for the unfavorable circumstances that are hampering the strengthening of relations.
Over the past few decades, the United Arab Emirates has acted as a virtual bridge between Afghanistan and much of the rest of the world. Most Afghan air traffic passes through Dubai. The UAE is like a second home for most Afghan business people and those seeking skilled and unskilled employment. Relations between Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates have stood the test of time, as they are not only government-to-government, but also and above all people-to-people, built on respect and love. between two great nations.
Afghans fondly remember the late Sheikh Khalifa and hope that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan will follow in the footsteps of his late brother and visionary father by further strengthening the partnership of trust and friendship between Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates. .
- Ajmal Shams is vice-president of the Afghan Social Democratic Party and is based in Kabul. He was a deputy minister in the former Afghan government. Twitter: @ajmshams
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