By Saima Afzal
Afghanistan transitions into a new phase after the withdrawal of the US forces, the fear of a destabilized Afghanistan and the looming threat of a humanitarian crisis have heightened the potential challenges for the neighboring states. For Pakistan, stability in Afghanistan mean stability in Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan have not only pledged direct humanitarian assistance but also sensitizing the world to engage with Afghanistan for the sake of the average Afghans, who are suffering from poverty, Covid-19, poor health and cold weather. Pakistan has been remained committed to facilitating and supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan in close collaboration with the international community. Despite of economic strangulation, Pakistan is selflessly providing assistance to Afghans in addressing economic, humanitarian, and security issues. Pakistan have facilitated Afghanistan in trade, transit and business. Pakistan believes that economic development is a key of prosperity for any county and Afghanistan’s potential as a gateway for economic connectivity with Central Asian states is a key drive not only for Afghanistan but also for the region. Afghanistan’s economic integration will bind its government and can influence its policies in a positive way.
Economically, Afghanistan is unstable because after Taliban’s takeover, international community has frozen Afghan assets. Afghanistan economy is aid dependent, 75 percent of public spending relied on grant funding. Approximately half of the 40 million Afghans are estimated to be in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has also warned that about 97 percent of Afghanistan’s population may sink below the poverty line if the country’s political and economic crises are not addressed.
After taking control of the country, Taliban leaders visited the neighboring states for humanitarian assistance and to enhance trade. On 17th January 2022, the senior delegation led by Acting Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi visited Ashgabat, Turkmenistan and held meeting with Turkmen Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Mr. Rashid Muradov and other Turkmen officials. The meeting focused on bilateral political, diplomatic and economic relations, security cooperation, and early launch of TAPI, TAP projects, education and scholarships. Both states were agreed to use Afghanistan as a transit route between Central and South Asia and to transport liquefied natural gas, minerals, food and other commercial goods through this route.
CASA-1000 is a $1.16 billion project currently under construction that will allow for the export of surplus hydroelectricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and finally to Pakistan. Project was earlier signed in 2008 while the groundbreaking for this 1,270km power transmission line took place in May 2016 by leaders of the four nations. The entire project is expected to be completed in 2023. A total of 1300 Mw electricity is expected to be transferred though this project. Afghanistan will get 300 MW of electricity while Pakistan will get 1000 MW of electricity.
The Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline will be a 1,814km trans-country natural gas pipeline running across four countries. Also known as the Peace Pipeline and Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, the TAPI pipeline will begin in Turkmenistan and traverse Afghanistan to enter Pakistan and India. Project was visualized earlier in 1990 but the execution remained delayed till 2008 when it was formally signed. Work in Tajikistan has been completed while it is in progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Taliban agreed to support the project. The $ 8 billion TAPI gas line project is being facilitated and coordinated by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The success of both projects will directly help peace and political stability in the region. Joint economic projects and interests will make the regional countries’ commitment to tackle extremism even stronger.
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Dr. Moeed Yusuf visited Kabul on 29-30 January 2022 and discussed the various avenues of economic development between the both states. Both countries have agreed to start harbor trade and showed resolve to complete CASA-1000, TAPI and Trans-Afghan Rail projects. CASA-1000 is very important because it establishes Afghanistan’s status as a main transit country between Central Asia and South Asia. TAPI would help Afghanistan cement a role as a transit country. Pakistan offered assistance to Afghanistan on education, health and other fields. Both sides agreed to establish a national-level coordination mechanism for enhancing facilitation at border crossing points and to expedite ongoing negotiations to conclude a new trade agreement.
Peace and stability in Afghanistan will improve transit connectivity in the whole region of Asia, as Afghanistan instability will impact neighboring instability and its stability will also influence regional stability. A peaceful Afghanistan will be in benefit of the region and above all, advantageous for Pakistan. A connecting land route from Afghanistan to Central Asia will provide a more effective and cheap alternative to Pakistan’s present routes via Iran or China. With this link, Pakistan would indeed be able to obtain market opportunities for its goods and agriculture products and improve relations with Afghanistan and beyond. Afghanistan will open a way for Pakistan to grow more economically. Economic connectivity is interlinked with peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan in particular and the region in general will face the economic burden of Afghan instability. The economic development not only Pakistan but the region hinges on Afghanistan peace. Pakistan’s proposals for deepening economic engagement is to overcome the current challenges Afghanistan is facing.
* The writer is Islamabad based analyst and can be reached at [email protected].