Note: This article discusses the benefits of expanding CPEC to Afghanistan. CPEC is the flagship project of BRI.
Senior officials of Pakistan and China this week discussed the possibility of extending the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to Afghanistan. This will help in promoting economic development and prosperity in the war-ravaged country. The idea to extend the flagship programme of BRI was discussed during a meeting between China’s special envoy on Afghanistan Yue Xiaoyong and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Sohail Mahmood. An official statement said the two sides exchanged views on the political and security situation in Afghanistan, humanitarian assistance by Pakistan and China to Afghanistan, and other matters of mutual interest.
“In the context of regional connectivity, both sides exchanged views on extension of CPEC to Afghanistan to promote economic development and prosperity,” read the statement.
As officials from China, Pakistan and Afghanistan revealed an inclination to extend the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project into Afghanistan, experts said that such projects could help boost Afghanistan’s exports, which is conducive to the country’s journey of peace, but the feasibility of the project depends on whether the Afghan government and Taliban forces can reach a consensus on protecting overseas investment. Although no concrete progress has occurred when it comes to the project, it seemed that the political leaders of the countries involved in the project all expressed a supportive attitude toward China’s investment in Afghanistan.
If the CPEC is extended into Afghanistan, China could help build or improve infrastructure between Afghanistan and Pakistan to facilitate their economic exchange. One project he particularly mentioned is the highway between Peshawar and Kabul, which he said is being built but is not qualified and wide enough for transport. China can help build bypasses to that road, as well as expanding relevant customs to make the connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan smoother. With such infrastructure facilities, goods manufactured in Afghanistan will manage to find their way into the abundant markets in Pakistan, which Zhou said is important because only when Afghan people manage to make some money first and have their buying powers can the economic interaction between the two countries develop in a healthy direction.
Chinese companies could help invest in energy infrastructure in Afghanistan such as building electricity plants and water irrigation channels. Those completed, and then cooperation could be enhanced to a further stage such as the construction of processing areas and industry parks in the two countries’ neighboring areas, where overseas capital can be directed in. The CPEC also has apparent positive spillover effect in the reconstruction process of Afghanistan. Connectivity embodied by BRI will facilitate the flow of goods and people and via CPEC’s key transportation routes, and it is not hard to see that Afghanistan’s post-war reconstruction, industrial and digital buildup and economic growth could benefit.
CPEC’s industrial parks, many invested by Chinese investors, could provide the goods and products needed by reconstruction process in Afghanistan. Such economic construction, with benefits including the addition of local jobs, will be conducive to the country’s security and its journey to peace. Afghanistan has become the first among several landlocked Central Asian countries to benefit from using the Chinese-invested Gwadar Port in Pakistan in transshipment trade. In 2020, the country imported 43,000 tons of fertilizers via the port, contributing to its agricultural development. There have also been precedent efforts in tapping for the potential of Gwadar Port as a deep-water port that may open a coveted sea trade option for landlocked Central Asian countries for exports. However, at the moment, the situation in Afghanistan is severe, and the Pakistan government is also concerned that any security spillover from the country could impact the local security situation.
The inclusion of Afghanistan in CPEC would not only help bring stability to the country, but would also play a significant role in boosting the country’s economy. Decades of conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in the urgent need of economic growth and sustained infrastructural development. By providing foreign investment and businesses along with employment, CPEC can ensure that growth. It will also help Afghanistan reduce its dependence on foreign aid, and instead become a major stakeholder and contributor of the project.
While the modalities of the project are yet to be disclosed, in all probability, Afghanistan will benefit from CPEC through the two defined routes, namely the western route i.e Torkham to Jalalabad and the southeastern route i.e. from Chaman to Kandahar. By becoming a part of CPEC, Afghanistan would benefit significantly from a cheaper and much easier route connecting it to Gwadar, which will further provide it access to the Indian Ocean and beyond.
Afghanistan is believed to possess a number of discovered, as well as undiscovered deposits of natural resources, including fossil fuels, rare minerals, uranium, lithium, copper, and gold to name a few. However, due to decades of war and instability, the country has not been able to tap its resources and benefit from its mineral wealth. While the exact amount and quantity of the resources is debatable. Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum has approximated the country’s mineral wealth at an estimated $3 trillion. It may also be recalled that during the first time the Taliban came into power, the group had sent its representatives to Texas in 1997, to hold meetings with Union Oil Company of California (UNOCAL) regarding a $2 billion oil deal.
Hence, there is no doubt that the country possesses mineral wealth and if tapped in the right manner, it could very well bring economic prosperity and stability to Afghanistan. Therefore, if included in the CPEC project, Afghanistan will be able to benefit from its untapped resources, which would lead to a number of benefits for the country in terms of foreign investment, employment, and making Afghanistan a significant part of the regional trade hub.
By becoming a part of CPEC, Afghanistan will gain access to the wider BRI network. Apart from access to China and Central Asia, Afghanistan will have access to South Asia and even parts of Europe. This will provide Afghan goods with a greater and more diverse market outreach.
Lastly, once Afghanistan becomes a part of CPEC, apart from the economic benefits. The project will also provide Pakistan and Afghanistan with a platform to improve and strengthen their strained bilateral relationship. Project will provide a much needed rationale to avoid conflict. While it is perceived that the strained Pakistan-Afghanistan relationship is one of the major hurdles in CPEC’s potential expansion to Afghanistan. On the contrary, it’s implementation can be used to forge closer ties between the two neighbors and create interdependence.
The expansion of CPEC into Afghanistan thus holds great importance for Pakistan’s national security and strategic interests.