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Potential issues of Afghanistan’s inclusion in OBOR

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China is ready to include Afghanistan into its billion-dollar Belt & Road (B & R) initiative despite Afghanistan’s geopolitical uncertainty including the Afghan refugee crisis and continuous insurgency. B & R initiative is a development strategy and infrastructure development is vital to the stability of Afghanistan.

Since the US- led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, political instability and a deteriorated security situation is still an existing phenomenon in the warn-torn country. Its security situation varies from region to region; its northern part has seen little violence and the most intense conflicts occurred in its southern part such as Kandahar. Security is a prerequisite for the development of infrastructure such as networks of roads and railways.

China is willing to include Afghanistan to extend OBOR. The extension plan may involve the expansion of the CPEC to neighboring Afghanistan through a road linking Pakistan’s Peshawar to Kabul and to Kunduz and then into Central Asia.

Simultaneously, infrastructure development itself is very important to defeat insurgency as government troops can move more easily and it becomes difficult for insurgents to hide improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on an asphalt road. Apart from the security situation in Afghanistan, its institutions are very weak but it has seen massive improvement in the organizational setup of Afghan government functions influenced by the US and NATO in the last decade.

Though these changes, including a new constitution were remarkable achievements, most of its institutions are still relatively weak. In many areas, there is a parallel government. The central Kabul government has limited control or even influence outside its immediate surrounding area. There are multiple ethnic groups and traditional decentralization of power left the country with a power vacuum with no centralized democratic system.

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These matters have generated other issues including corruption, widespread inability to enforce the rule of law and general instability. China-Pakistan’s approach towards Afghanistan remained restraint and responsible. There is an immediate need of a joint strategy at national, regional and international levels for Afghanistan’s reconciliation and infrastructure rebuilding processes. Contrarily, the US takes insurgency as a local problem and has failed to formulate an integrated approach to resolve this conflict.

Along with this, Durand line issue with Pakistan seem difficult to control. Many insurgent groups have used this region to launch guerrilla attacks. As such, International Security Assistant Forces and Afghan troops have never been able to defeat them conclusively. Although for the US and its allies it was relatively easy to oust Taliban from Kabul. For Pakistan, Kabul’s joining China Pakistan Economic Corridor is a security risk.

Kabul can’t depend solely on the Chinese government’s development projects.  It should develop a policy to attract private sector investments. Its government needs to take measures to develop its industrial base that could easily integrate.

To address this, the United Nations peacekeeping forces could take responsibility to train Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to address the concerns of regional stakeholders in capacity building. Afghanistan is a multi-ethnic and a tribal nation and the US has ignored this fact. The tribal structure needs to be given importance and the old Afghan “National Covenant” could be revived.

The existence of insurgency in the north is fragile, that’s why this is a logical strategy to start rolling out corridor projects in Afghanistan.  To reach out a deal for CPEC does not seem easy, so capacity building of forces is vital for extension of infrastructure projects to the south. It is likely that the Chinese won’t be financing the recurrent costs related to security related operational expenditure so the biggest contribution has to come from the war-torn country itself.

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Kabul can’t depend solely on the Chinese government’s development projects.  It should develop a policy to attract private sector investments. Its government needs to take measures to develop its industrial base that could easily integrate into the corridor structure once Afghanistan joins the belt-road initiative.

Afghanistan has been accepted as a permanent member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); last year (2017) was a noticeable achievement. Undoubtedly, it is all set to be in the orbit of the Belt and Road initiative (B&R). Afghanistan and China signed an OBOR memorandum of understanding in May 2016, expressing their commitment to “jointly promote cooperation on [OBOR] in a bid to realize the goal of common development, and translate the advantages of solid political ties, economic complementarities and people-to-people exchanges into pragmatic cooperation in an effort to promote increasing economic growth.”

China is willing to include Afghanistan to extend OBOR. The extension plan may involve the expansion of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to neighboring Afghanistan through a road linking Pakistan’s Peshawar to Kabul and to Kunduz and then into Central Asia.


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