On a BBC program about their correspondentsâ predictions the networkâs seasoned correspondent, and my good friend, Lyse Doucet observed that this century is an opportunity for the Kurds. She said that Kurdish leaders may see this as their best chance âto try and take the apple from the tree.â
But in 2013, here is what we have: Iraqi and Kurdish forces locked in a tense stand-off, unresolved problems between Baghdad and Erbil, no more oil exports from Kurdistan and an ailing presidentâs forced absence. Many of the internal problems have remained shelved due to these reasons.
These problems are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. With every passing day the problems seem to be getting deeper and the Kurds are inching closer to making a fatal decision about their future.
Some say that 2013 could even be the year of Kurdish independence. But whichever direction they head, Kurdistanâs leaders should use the new year to build a solid foundation. They should prepare for any eventuality, and be proactive rather than wait for events to dictate their steps.
The leaders have demonstrated the regionâs capability for achieving internal security and stability, but this may not be enough. Economic security is just as important.
To achieve economic security, the first step is to fight corruption in a serious, systematic and legal manner, not through empty statements in the media. Investment in Kurdistan should be geared toward building people, not things. Only if leaders focus on investing in people can they prepare the Kurdish youth for any eventuality.
The most important issues in Kurdistan that need urgent attention are health and education.
In Erbil, we have many five-star hotels, but not a proper hospital. The education sector is no better, with poor state schools and unregulated private ones.
While the leadership of the region talks about being part of the free world, there are still serious shortcomings in getting there. Laws guaranteeing the right to information and freedom of expression still need to be passed. The authoritiesâ relationship with the media is still far from ideal. We need a nation that is aware of itself and its surroundings.
Only when the leaders treat these internal issues as priorities will the region strengthen itself externally. Kurdistanâs current image is that of a place to make money and nothing else, because of rampant corruption, nepotism and lack of freedoms.
In order to âtake the apple from the tree,â the Kurdistan Regionâs leadership must change this image by seriously tackling the issues and charting a clear roadmap for the future.