Extension of CPEC to Afghanistan: Prospect and Opportunities
In August 2021, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan created challenges as well as opportunities for regional countries, especially China and Pakistan.
They were worried about the future security situation in Afghanistan and its spill-over into the neighbouring regions in both countries.
After its irresponsible and tumultuous withdrawal, the US seized Afghan’s whopping assets of $7 billion which further plunged the country into soaring inflation, starvation, unemployment and a growing brain drain.
The pertinent questions are raised here. How will China and Pakistan cope with the foreseen challenges emanating from Afghanistan? Will the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan become a harbinger of prosperity and connectivity for China, Pakistan and the region?
As the saying goes that “every challenge creates an equal opportunity”. Though the US abandoned Afghanistan in hot water, there are innumerable opportunities for both China and Pakistan in the war-torn country.
Beijing after the US withdrawal has been actively engaged in humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan and sent aid worth 200 million Yuan, including the corona vaccine and food supplies.
Moreover, the Chinese are interested in extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan with support of Pakistan. Presently, both countries are thoroughly cognizant of the fact that the extension of CPEC to Afghanistan would be instrumental in promoting economic prosperity in Afghanistan and regional connectivity in South Asia.
Extension of CPEC to Afghanistan was brought under the consideration by China’s special envoy on Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong and Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood at the Foreign Office in Islamabad.
Afghan Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid clearly states that “China is our most important partner and represents a fundamental and extraordinary opportunity for us because it is ready to invest and rebuild our country”.
Ostensibly, the US swift withdrawal has left a vacuum that would certainly be filled by China. With the support of Pakistan, Beijing will leave no stone unturned to make a stable Afghanistan proving to be essential for the interest of the whole region.
Most of the superpowers invaded Afghanistan for their vested security interests and subsequently left war-torn Afghanistan once their interests met.
Unlike previous regional and superpowers, China eschews political and military interference and espouses the path of a win-win situation through economic alignment and regional connectivity with the outside world. For instance, Beijing is interested in long-term investment in regional countries including Pakistan, Iran, and Central Asia.
China has its flagship CPEC program in Pakistan while planning to invest $400 billion in Iran as well as $250 billion in Central Asia. With Afghanistan’s key geographical location, Beijing is committed to connecting Afghanistan with every regional country.
Yao Jing who remained a former Chinese Ambassador to Afghanistan in 2016 articulates that “without Afghan connectivity, there is no way to connect China with the rest of the world”.
China’s preoccupation with the natural resources of Afghanistan is extremely unlikely to be ruled out.
Afghanistan according to the Internal US department of defence memo is the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” blessed with approximately $1trillion of lithium.
The usage of lithium is believed to have been surpassing the usage of oil in the era of science and technology. The extension of CPEC and Chinese expertise in the capitalization of lithium is a need of the time for Afghanistan.
The Taliban government, on the other hand, is willing to improve ties with China, Russia and Iran. These three countries including Pakistan are crucial regional players, arguably, paving the path to a regional bloc in the region.
The overlapping convergence in the national interests of the regional countries is conceived to be a harbinger for the success of CPEC in Afghanistan. Afghanistan till 2016 was not a part of the Belt and Road Initiative BRI due to security concerns amid Global War on Terror (GWOT).
Kabul in 2016 inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with China. Beijing and Kabul agreed on numerous projects of the BRI. The extension of CPEC to Afghanistan will further enhance the political and economic dividends of Kabul.
And the inclusion of Afghanistan in CPEC would enhance regional connectivity as Afghanistan remains a gateway to Central Asian states and the West Asian Corridor.
Consequently, Afghanistan has a great deal of potential to serve China’s interests. In this regard, China’s expertise under CPEC will change the destiny of Afghanistan.
Apart from its geographical location, Afghanistan always remained attractive to global and regional players under its natural resources.
The former mines minister of Afghanistan stated that the country had nearly US$3 billion in natural resources encompassing, ore, lithium, rare earth, natural gas, uranium, chromium, coal, bauxite, lead, zinc, iron ore, marble, Sulphur and travertine.
According to the Internal US department of defence memo, Afghanistan is the “Saudi Arabia of lithium” blessed with approximately $1trillion of lithium. The usage of lithium is believed to have been surpassing the usage of oil in the era of science and technology. Chinese expertise in extracting natural resources would help in the economic development of Afghanistan.
With China’s economic alignment policy, Afghanistan under the Taliban regime has the opportunity to engage Beijing in the economic development of the war-torn country.
Chinese investment and expertise in extracting mines would create economic prosperity by earning economic capital and jobs for the locals.
Therefore, the inclusion of Kabul in CPEC certainly proves to be the harbinger of prosperity and development for the people of Afghanistan.