Revamping Afghanistan by BRI
THE Taliban Administration has yet to establish a conclusive government in Afghanistan. The announced cabinet was not accepted by many countries including Iran that demanded elections in the country before they recognize any new government.
Even Russia attended the government inauguration ceremony with their ambassador level officials. The new Afghan Administration was also criticized for not involving any women in their cabinet.
Nevertheless, the challenges do not end here; to run the country’s affairs, they will need finances, human expertise, and a lot of international support. The US has already frozen Afghanistan’s reserves and the country needs urgent humanitarian assistance.
Therefore, Kabul will need allies and China can not only fill the gap but also help it rebuild using the Belt and Road Initiative.
A stable government in Afghanistan is in the best interest of both Pakistan and China. Therefore, the Chinese Administration showed an interest in developing diplomatic relations with the new Afghan government.
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar also went to meet the Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin.
Chinese leadership vowed to have economic relations given the Afghan government ensures not to support East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a Uyghur separatist movement in Xinjiang.
Corridors connecting Afghanistan and China: There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China.
It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south and Afghanistan to the west.
It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public.
The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track.
Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year.
North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang.
All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.
Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions.
Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.
By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.
The N5 highway which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.
The new Afghan government will have to attract a lot of foreign investment and it does not seem probable in the given conditions. However, BRI could lay the foundations of better infrastructure for Afghanistan.
That will include roads, dams, railway lines, communication, IT, etc. More importantly, Afghanistan is rich in mineral resources, especially Lithium that is used in batteries. Given China’s current consumption and mining expertise, the resources could generate a good source of income.
However, they will have to eliminate the shortcomings that prevented such projects to materialize in the past.
China invited the Taliban delegation to an intra-Afghan conference in Beijing in 2019 and there has been some understanding between the two parties.
Taliban leadership said that they hope that China would “play a bigger role in future reconstruction and economic development” and guaranteed the safety of Chinese investors and workers in the country.
If Taliban leadership is serious about establishing mutually beneficial economic relationships with China and Pakistan, they will have to make sure that they are capable of providing security to the projects and foreign nationals.
Secondly, as promised by the current Taliban leadership that their soil will not be used against anyone, meaning they will have to make sure the Turkistan Islamic Party does not continue operating from its camps in Afghanistan as previously reported.
Along with that, they will have to ensure that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is not using their hideouts to carry out attacks in Pakistan because they still pose a serious threat to CPEC. Another important factor is the Taliban’s treatment of minorities and other ethnic groups.
For example, the Hazara community in Afghanistan has been targeted for years, if groups like these don’t feel safe then there will always be some potential of resistance in the form of a foreign-funded proxy that could damage relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has experienced a massive brain-drain especially during the current episode of US withdrawal.
There is a shortage of expertise in different sectors, for example, engineers, financiers, economists, businessmen, etc. That will create issues for the Administration to boost the local industries. Overcoming these issues will require the right policymaking.
With BRI, both investment and expertise can nurture the local industries and it will also create opportunities for more workers to be trained in respective fields.
Since most of the Afghan population is engaged with agriculture, advanced research from Beijing could enhance the growth as well.
With better law and order situation, heritage tourism could pick up some pace and could generate income for the government and also locals.
There is an enormous potential for Afghanistan if CPEC is extended, it will be equally beneficial for the trilateral relationship as well. However, the law and order situation, good governance and the threat from IS-K are the major challenges.