By Saima Afzal
Afghanistan known as the ‘heart of Asia’, is a gateway to various regions and connects especially Central Asia by Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, South Asia through Pakistan, and the Middle East, via Iran. Therefore, peace and stability in Afghanistan are vital for the socio-economic development and prosperity of the region. The economic connectivity of the region is also interlinked with peace in Afghanistan. According to the United States geological survey Afghanistan holds 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 million tons of iron ore, and 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements. Pakistan being an immediate neighbor also looks forward to continuing close engagement with Afghanistan for long-term peace and stability in the country and to create an environment conducive to regional economic cooperation and connectivity because the security and stability of Pakistan are directly or indirectly linked with Afghanistan’s peace. In case instability and uncertainty remain in Afghanistan, Pakistan in particular, and the region, in general, will face an economic burden.
As Afghanistan transitions into a new phase, its politics and economic instability marred with human security have heightened the potential security challenges for the neighboring states. For Pakistan stability in Afghanistan means stability within its borders. That is why, despite economic strangulation, Pakistan is selflessly providing assistance to Afghans in addressing economic, humanitarian, and security issues. Pakistan has facilitated Afghanistan in trade, transit, and business. Some facts about Afghanistan’s current politico-economic highlights are that Afghanistan’s economy is aid-dependent, 75% of public spending relied on grant funding, 20 million Afghans are estimated to require humanitarian assistance, and 8.7 million people would need long-term and consistent assistance. Afghan health care system, being heavily reliant on foreign funds, remained unable to pay salaries to the doctors and staff or even buy medicines. United Nations has 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. The best viable solution to boost the Afghan economy is to enhance its trade and connectivity with the regional states to overcome the humanitarian and economic crisis in the country.
Subsequently, economic development is the key to prosperity for any country therefore Afghanistan’s potential as a gateway for economic connectivity with Central Asian states is crucial for the growth and development not only of Afghanistan but also of the entire region. In this framework, developmental projects like TAPI, CASA-1000, and Trans-Afghan Rail project will have a potentially positive impact on economic development and peace between Central and South Asia. Afghanistan will once again become the heart of the region. The completion of the TAPI, CASA-1000, and Trans-Afghan Rail project will bring prosperity not only to Afghanistan and Pakistan but also to the region. Contemporary, Afghan Interim government supports both projects CASA-1000 and TAPI and the success of these projects will directly help peace and political stability in the region. Joint economic projects and interests will make the regional countries’ commitment to tackling extremism even stronger.
Moreover, Afghanistan is part of important connectivity initiatives including the Lapis Lazuli corridor that would link Afghanistan to Europe via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) extension would potentially help Afghanistan to become a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Through this, Pakistan could reach Central Asian energy markets using Afghanistan as a gateway. Notably, for trade and energy resources, Pakistan might also use Afghanistan as a route to Europe via Central Asia. A connecting land route from Afghanistan to Central Asia will also provide a more effective and cheap alternative to Pakistan’s present routes via Iran or China. With this link, Pakistan would be able to attain market opportunities for its goods and agriculture products and improve relations with Afghanistan and beyond.
Therefore, Pakistan’s proposal for deepening economic engagement with Afghanistan is to overcome the current challenges that Afghanistan is facing. Consequently, platforms like Afghanistan’s neighbors must be used to urge the international community to help restore stability in Afghanistan so that the Afghan government may be to uphold its political commitment to these projects. Regional connectivity will also help to enlist Afghanistan as a partner for reaching new markets rather than as a threat and source of problems. Regional prosperity hinges on Afghanistan’s peace; trade and connectivity potential.
*The author is an Islamabad-based analyst and holds MPhil in Peace and Conflict studies and can be reached at [email protected]m.