Naveed Aman Khan
Trilateral cooperation between Pakistan, Afghanistan and China, on Belt and Road would benefit all three countries. The China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a game-changer in South Asia. CPEC is a $64 billion infrastructure development project that aims to connect China’s Xinjiang region to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. Naturally, with arrival of such large scale infrastructure investments, CPEC has drawn attention of other regional stake holders. Since October 2016, Afghanistan has expressed strong desire to join and has even done so.
China and Pakistan welcome Afghanistan to CPEC. China has long harbored an interest in Afghanistan’s untapped reserves of natural resources, but security situation in the country has prevented further investment. Pakistan will benefit from easier access to Central Asia through Afghanistan, as well as economic relief from the return of Afghan refugees to their country once the security situation is stabilized. As a landlocked, terrorism- and militancy-prone nation, Afghanistan is in desperate need of infrastructural development and uplifting its economy by access to Chinese investors. Afghanistan’s security situation has been steadily declining since 2014, when NATO troops began to leave Afghanistan. Taliban’s resurgence, coincided with the withdrawal of forces, has led to attacks in the country.
CPEC is bringing industrialization and investment to Pakistan, the carry-over effects of which will benefit Afghanistan. Pakistan has already undertaken building of several roads to improve connectivity between the two countries. The 75 km Torkham-Jalalabad road is one of them, while the Peshawar-Torkham road is another. These developments have faced considerable completion challenges, they are a step toward increasing connectivity with Pakistan, and in turn, gaining Afghan access to CPEC. Pakistan has constructed two roads leading from D.I. Khan to Angoor Adda and Ghulam Khan, linking with Paktika and Khost provinces of Afghanistan respectively. These roads will enable Afghan business people and investors to access the markets in South Asia increasing Afghanistan’s exports and reducing the costs of imports.
By becoming part of CPEC, Afghanistan will have opportunity to stabilize its economy by enhancing its trade opportunities. In 2015, 72 percent of Afghanistan’s total exports were to Pakistan and India alone. The main export goods were carpets, rugs, dried fruit, medicinal plants and not the copper, iron ore, and other valuable resources Afghanistan is known to possess in abundance. It will provide two opportunities: first, access to markets in China, Central Asia, and parts of Europe that Afghanistan doesn’t currently trade with and the chance to diversify Afghan trade products by exporting copper, iron, and other resources to different countries. For China, Afghanistan presents strategic value due to its geographic location at the crossroads of South Asia and Central Asia. Its vast mineral resources are untapped and present a valuable economic opportunity. These are valued at $1 trillion. Afghanistan’s security and corruption challenges have in the past deterred many investment opportunities .In 2008, China had signed a 30-year agreement with Afghanistan government to access Mes Aynak, the world’s second largest untapped copper deposit. The deal worth over $3 billion was viewed with great interest until it stalled due to security concerns and attacks by Taliban.
China has played central role in supporting peace talks between Afghanistan government and Taliban by encouraging the latter to join peace negotiations. Ensuring security in Afghanistan not only contributes to stability in the country, but it also allows China to be at ease regarding instability of Afghanistan impacting security and stability in its western region, specifically Xinjiang province . China has only made minimal contributions to directly support the security effort in Afghanistan, largely deferring to the United States and NATO. Since 2014, China has increased its security cooperation, providing military aid for counter terrorism efforts. Greater effort to combat militancy in Afghanistan will open the doors for Chinese investments and access to the country’s untapped resources. A stable and thriving Afghanistan presents several direct benefits to Pakistan. First, it will allow Pakistan to ease the economic toll of hosting Afghan refugees. For decades, Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees, who fled major wars and conflicts in their country. Over the years even more Afghans were born within Pakistan which increased the economic burden on an already struggling country. Pakistan had spent over $300 billion on hosting Afghan refugees. As a result, since 2015, Pakistani government has forced several hundred thousand refugees to return to Afghanistan, drawing the ire of humanitarian organizations. The economic integration and improvement of Afghanistan’s economy will allow for millions of refugees to return to their homeland and reap the benefits of the new economic opportunities, while easing the burden on Pakistan’s economy.
China, Pakistan and Afghanistan all stand to benefit from trilateral cooperation that enhances security and stability, increases infrastructural development, and opens the doors to economic development and connectivity. Afghanistan’s security situation has to improve. Pakistan also needs to bolster its efforts. Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA is necessary to wipe out terrorists strongholds and prevent their movement from Afghanistan and vice-versa.
By connecting roads and motorways across borders to Pakistan and China, Afghanistan can easily integrate into CPEC.
While China and Pakistan can play major roles in transforming Afghanistan, the biggest contribution has to come from the country itself. Afghan government must take policy steps to facilitate smooth participation in CPEC . CPEC ,is Chinese government’s flagship foreign policy project. Afghan government has to create a favorable environment for investment. This can be achieved by involving the private sector and increasing productivity by optimization.
China’s One Belt One Road project could provide hope and opportunities for the war- torn Afghanistan. Afghanistan must cooperate with Pakistan and China in order to make its inclusion into CPEC a reality.
Naveed Aman Khan