Four years ago, I was opportune to work with the local government in Laghman province, Eastern Afghanistan. As a team, we were mainly tasked with the mission to deliver qualitative, sufficient and sustainable public services for provincial development. Against this backdrop, we were responsible to attract funding from donor countries and international organizations to underwrite the costs of the projects being undertaken in the province. Consequently, our efforts became recognized when we found the opportunity to meet the Republic of Korea Ambassador to Afghanistan in the UN regional compound in Nangarhar province. Our interactions with the Ambassador was facilitated by the UNAMA.
We discussed the Republic of Korea contributions to Afghanistan and lauded their Mission for the support and assistance in various areas. We appealed to the Ambassador to fund some of the then on-going projects in some parts of the rural areas within some districts of the province. Fortunately, the Korean Ambassador had comprehensive knowledge about Afghanistan and its rural developmental policy. The Ambassador was very brief and responsive to our request. He said: “We are with Afghanistan; we have been supporting this country since 2002 in many areas; the Republic of Korea remains strongly committed towards Afghanistan’s peace, development, and prosperity; we can provide support for the Afghan people in rural areas as well but it would be better for all Afghans to stand together to build their villages and accelerate their rural development as Koreans demonstrated during the 1970s leading to rural development, massive poverty eradication and a slump in the gap between rural and urban areas relative to income and social amenities.” The Ambassador emphasized that the Saemaul Undong (New Village Movement) practiced in South Korea should be a modelled-lesson that can benefit Afghanistan given the experiences in South Korean villages that led to an astronomical reduction in poverty and a great social and economic transformation that reshaped the Republic of Korea.
Saemaul Undong is a South Korean community-driven developmental model which was instrumental for the transformative impact on South Korea social and economic development. Interestingly, the ambassador showed us some of his pictures that were taken during the Saemaul Undong Movement in Korea. He demonstrated through the pictures based on practical experiences in South Korea that only the spirit of self-help and cooperation among Afghans could end poverty and bring better opportunities for the Afghan community.
Furthermore, the Ambassador encouraged Afghan youth to apply and utilize the opportunities being offered through scholarships by the South Korean government and universities to international students every year. He strongly believes that through this window of Scholarships, many Afghan youths can capitalized and get firsthand knowledge on how South Korea became a success story within a short epoch of time.
The meeting was a motivational lesson for me. It inspired me to begin a roadmap to study one day in South Korea and acquire comprehensive firsthand knowledge that led to the rapid social and economic transformation of South Korea. This dream became a reality by 2019 after I applied for one of the Scholarships offered by the Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management; I was successfully awarded: the Global Ambassador Scholarship to pursue a master degree in Public Policy. I subsequently divulged the news to my friends that I have been awarded a scholarship in the Republic of Korea. Many of my friends got apprehensive about the offer to study in South Korea. Ignorantly, most of my friends mistook South Korea to be North Korea not knowing that both are not the same; although, both South Korea and North Korea were historically united but got separated at the advent of Cold War Politics. Some of my friends displayed their ignorance by claiming that South Korea is ruled by a dictator and is plunged in poverty characterized by bad civil liberties against its citizens which makes it unsuitable for education. It contributes meaningfully to the North Korean people today although the demilitarized zone exists between both countries.
I was very thrilled as I embark to honor my scholarship when I arrived at the School which is located in Sejong City, the administrative Capital of South Korea. This city is one of the smart cities in the world. I got immediately challenged by the mission of the School: to nurture young and emerging leaders across the globe. I further saw myself as a catalyst to achieve this mission. My sojourn of one year in South Korea was worthwhile. I spent my leisure time exploring many parts of the country which was a great lesson for me. My perspective of South Korea is that it is a new world and has numerous meaningful lessons for developing countries. My view stems from the fact that I was born in war, grew up in war and did not have any hope for the future of my country. Interestingly, while I was exploring South Korea, I found out that if any poor country or nation wants to overcome its challenges, it would be better to utilize the South Koreans model. South Korea has built on its success story and has advanced in technology, harbored one of the best educational system in the world, home to one of the best standards of living and green environment for living in the world: all built on the philosophy of hard work and cooperation.
Today, most of the young Koreans do not have information about Afghanistan; only their older generation understands that Afghanistan is a country in Asia which is faced by wars and great games. We have been seeking to communicate with South Korea for the exchanges of views in terms of the Afghanistan-South Korea relationship. We have encountered many people but their views have been divided about the friendship and relationships of these two countries. Some of them revealed that they do not have information about Afghanistan except the news that they watched which depict a bad picture based on western propaganda. On the other hand, a very small number of people have information about Afghanistan’s location, culture, and history; they urge Afghans to stay united and work hard for their country peace, security and growth as South Koreans have done in the last decades.
As an Afghan student in South Korea, I tried to get more information about Afghanistan’s image among Koreans. I found a lot of friends who always reminded me that Afghanistan is poised to have a very bright future because the young generation of Afghanistan choose education as the way and just the educated people alone can bring a lot of opportunities to our war-torn country and nation. They juxtaposed how South Korea once experienced the same situation that Afghanistan is faced with right now but miraculous escaped which is still applicable. They are right because the war which broke out between North and South Korea damaged everything in South Korea. At the demise of the Korean War, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. In 1960, its GDP per capita was $ 79 comparatively today its GDP per capita is around $ 31,246 which indicates a rapid economic growth and development.
Currently, South Korea is one of the developed countries in the world which has effectively transformed itself from a low- income country to a high-income country. It is also one of the world-leading economies within different sectors which include: innovation, technology, education, trade, and industrialization. Four decades ago, it was an aid recipient country but today it is one of the top donor countries to other developing countries and most developing countries seek to learn from the Korean development experiences. For instance, recently Afghanistan has started the implementation of Saemaul Undong in its northern province within two villages for the purpose to end poverty and disparity between rural and urban areas. The successful implementation of this pilot project is in the hands of Afghans as Koreans stood together for rural development in the 1970s and a remarkable success was achieved which accounted for combined and rapid economic growth and development.
According to the World Bank, the government of South Korea policies resulted in real gross domestic product growth averaging 7.3 percent annually between 1960 and 2019. This rapid development indicates that Korea is an exceptional example of an aid-recipient country transforming to a high-income country and now it the world’s 12th largest economy. It was the first former aid receiver country that achieved membership in the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Economic experts called South Korea: “The Miracle on the Han River”. Its experience provides lessons for developing countries in sustainable development, provision of infrastructure, and better services to advance the lives of the people as well as to transition to a dynamic knowledge economy.
Currently, Afghanistan has a mutual diplomatic relationship with the Republic of Korea and it was established in 1973 but since 2002 the relationship has been strengthening. With the state of affairs, Afghanistan needs highly to boost its diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties with the Republic of Korea. The time is ripped for such overtures as the government and people of South Korea have a friendly and effective outlook towards Afghanistan; the message is clear that their interest is to help Afghanistan as they sustain economic cooperation with Kabul.
As the current Republic of Korea Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr. Zha Hyoung Rhee states in his greetings message which was published on their embassy website: “since the resumption of its diplomatic ties with Afghanistan in 2002, the government of the Republic of Korea in close collaboration with the international community has been actively playing its due part in this calling of epic proportions through various means, including in-kind and financial contributions. Furthermore, Korea has been making substantial contributions since 2011 to social and economic development and capacity building of the security sector in close partnership with an international organization and the Afghan government.”
As mentioned above, we have a mutual diplomatic relationship with South Korea. Now, it is time for boosting the tie between the two countries with appreciation of full support and friendship given the fact that South Korea has been providing great assistance and support to Afghanistan. For instance, since 2002, the Republic of Korea has been providing more than 1364000000 US dollars for Afghanistan’s development, education, security improvements, capacity building, and e-governance, etc.
South Korea is important for Afghanistan because the latter is one of the poorest countries in the world which has been suffering from the scourge of war and conflict for many decades like South Korea once faced. This requires borrowing from the South Korean Model that brought about rapid economic growth and development after the Korean War. Fortunately, today, South Korea is eager to support Afghanistan and other developing countries in many areas.
To sum up, we appreciate Korea’s support for Afghanistan and other poor nations. We are thankful for everything. The evidence is clear that many leaders from developing countries today are eager to get South Korea support for their countries given the obvious economic gains. Now, it is the right time for the current government of Afghanistan to increase its interactions with South Korea and boost its diplomatic relationship further with this developed Asian country. I suggest to the President of Afghanistan, Dr. Ghani, to visit the Republic of Korea. He will probably be the first president of Afghanistan to visit South Korea. Following his visitation, we will be hoping to see President Moon reciprocation of the visit to Afghanistan. I am sure that such visitation shall strengthen our mutual relationship for further cooperation; specifically, our government should encourage Koreans companies to invest in Afghanistan.
View expressed in this article are of the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Pajhwok’s editorial policy.