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OBOR provides economic opportunities for Afghanistan: Rana Think Tank

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By Farhad Naibkhel-KABUL: Terming China’s One Belt One-Road (OBOR) initiative as an important economic and infrastructure development program for the region, political analysts and economists urged Afghan government to take full advantage of the mega regional project.

In a monthly gathering of the Rana Think Tank, the analysts said that Wakhan Corridor provides shortest route to connect China with Afghanistan.

“Land route—which is part of OBOR—starts from China and passes through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, and finally it will link Asia with European countries,” an Afghan researcher and member of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan, Imran Zakaria, said.

According to him, the sea route of this huge initiative would start from China and connect Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Africa.

He termed insecurity as main barrier that kept Afghanistan away from playing its role in this mega project. “The biggest obstacle ahead of OBOR is security-related issues in Afghanistan,” he said.

“If the issue of insecurity has not been resolved, China will face challenges during implementation of this initiative, especially to link with Middle and South Asia,” he opined, adding, “Stability in Afghanistan and in the regional countries will help this mega initiative—that benefits everyone—to be implemented smoothly and speedily.”

He furthered that China could also be linked through Landi Kotal tehsil of Khyber Agency to Jalalabad city of eastern Afghanistan, and through Chaman crossing to Spin Boldak of Kandahar province  in order to connect South Asia to Middle East.

Speaking about insecurity, he called on China to pressurize Pakistan aimed at convincing the country to work for peace, because only secure environment could help China to launch and implement mega initiative more affectively.

Since announcement of OBOR initiative, China has pledge $327 million in donation to Afghanistan till the end of 2017, with the construction of 10,000 apartments which makes it the biggest project of China to be implemented in Afghanistan, he asserted.

Zakaria said that diplomatic relations between Afghanistan and China had been improved since 2014. “A few years ago when I was in China, I criticized Pakistan for its double-game with Afghanistan, but Chinese official reacted to my stance and rejected the viewpoint. During my recent visit, I spoke again about Pakistan’s double game in Afghanistan, including supporting and harboring insurgency, the Chinese official did not show any reaction rather indirectly agreed with me,” he recalled.

Pointing towards Wakhan, the oldest and more valuable corridor between Afghanistan and China, he urged China to rehabilitate this corridor amid at having better and direct commercial deal between the two countries in the future.

Danish Bakhtyari, a university lecturer, said that China has focused more over economic development till the end of 20 century, but at current time, China work on both economy and security fronts. He showed optimism regarding OBOR initiative, calling on the government to take full advantage of the project.

Head of the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan, Rafiullah Niazi, said that although Afghanistan is not directly involved in OBOR, but still benefit from this intercontinental project.

He furthered that the railway road which links Landi Kotal to Jalalabad is good news for Afghanistan.

Pointing to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), he said that stable Afghanistan is very much important for the project. Niazi said that if China wonders to find link to Middle East, a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is need of the hour. “To achieve this goal, since 2013 China has been eager to support peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.”

Jamal-ur Rahman, another analyst, commented that the Wakhan Corridor could simply link Afghanistan to China. “Thus, Beijing has to focus over this corridor as the first point of the project,” he said. Without elaborating further, he expressed his optimism regarding OBOR initiative, terming it important for Afghanistan in area of economic development.

Ex-Governor of Kabul, Abdul Jabar Taqwa, said that China is willing to reconstruct Wakhan Corridor, but implementation of this project needs a stable Afghanistan. “It is up to the National Unity Government to bring peace and security. If law and order situation was satisfactory, only then the developmental projects including construction of Wakhan Corridor will take place smoothly,” he added.

Abdul Shokor Salangi, an international affairs analysts, raised question regarding Pakistan’s control over insurgents, saying if it is so, why Pakistan can’t convince militants not to hamper OBOR.

“This view is almost acceptable in Afghanistan that Pakistan has dominance over all terrorist groups, so if it is true, Pakistan has to quell threats ahead of OBOR implementation—a development project that benefits both China and Pakistan,” he questioned.

Salangi urged Afghan government to take advantage of the OBOR.

According to a report, the OBOR project will take many years to become a reality, but already many people are excited about the economic opportunities that would come with the initiative. Among the billions of people who could benefit immensely from OBOR, are the roughly 65 million residents of Central Asia.

Moreover, the process of transferring goods to Afghanistan by rail from China has been on card that has been running via the Alataw Pass, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Hairatan dry-port in northern Balkh province of Afghanistan.

“It has been nearly one year that Afghanistan has trade with China through freight train. In this period, around 1700 containers of goods, including phones, machines and other essential commodities have reached to Hairatan Port,” Spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, Musafir Qoqandi, said.

Earlier, goods important from China reached to the country via Pakistani and Iran transit trade roads which took at least three months to reach Afghanistan, he said, adding that now the cargo containers reach in nine to eleven days.

Spokesman for the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Sayam Pesarlay, said that in the past Afghanistan was not part of the OBOR, but fortunately, after meeting with Chinese officials, the country has become an important part of the initiative. “Afghanistan through this initiative would change as transit hub. Afghanistan holds very important position in this project.”

Pesarlay said that China also wants to work with Afghanistan and invest in mineral resources of the country.

In the past, during an exclusive interview with China’s CGTN broadcaster, Afghan Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi said: “There is a lot of potential inside Afghanistan. Chinese companies have invested in copper mine projects, and also oil fields in the north. The Chinese government has supported us in many development projects, irrigation and also affordable housing.”

He said that Chain’s OBOR initiative could provide hope and opportunities for the war-torn Afghanistan.

The OBOR Initiative is a regional economic cooperation framework, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in October 2013 that focuses on connectivity between China and the rest of Eurasia. It consists of two main components, the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the ocean-based “Maritime Silk Road.” The initiative calls for the integration of the region into a cohesive economic area by building infrastructure, increasing cultural exchanges, and broadening trade. Given its location at the crossroads of Central, South, and Southwest Asia, Afghanistan is poised to benefit from and partner with China through the OBOR initiative.

According to the analysts, till date Afghanistan doesn’t have huge role in this significant initiative, but still the country has a chance to be part of this project. However, officials said that Afghanistan playing immense role in OBOR initiative. They called insecurity as one of the main barrier and obstacle that caused concerns for China to implement OBOR.

China’s OBOR project aims to connect the world like never before, using land and sea routes to form trade links across Asia and Europe and Africa. This $900 billion project will link 65 Asian, European and African countries.