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Opinion: Transit status of Afghanistan in the region

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By Sayed Yahya Akhlaqi-The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, given its ancient history and strategic and geopolitical location in the heart of Asia and on the ancient Silk Route can play a pivotal role in the economic development of the region. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with its unique location is able to act as a linking ring of Southern and Northern Asia, Middle East and Western Asia and can play its extraordinary role in region’s economic development and stability.

Considering the rich energy resources of Central Asian countries, and an acute need for it in the South Asian countries, Afghanistan can serve as a link for this connectivity. Without a doubt facilitating transit and access by Central Asian countries to South Asian Markets and vice versa can very much help in the economic growth and prosperity of the region. On one hand, it is important to transport natural gas, fuel and electricity from countries located northwards of Afghanistan to her southern neighboring countries like India for the development of domestic production and industrial development. And on the other hand, for the products of these South Asian countries can export to Central Asian countries, particularly those products which cannot compete with products of other developed countries such as tea, coffee and equipment required for up gradation and modernization of the existing industrial infrastructure and in the agricultural sector as well of India.

Afghanistan is strategically located for trade and transit, which with better facilitation in the region could form a major and important route for regional cooperation. Therefore, strengthening of trade and regional connectivity between South and Central Asia is more beneficial to the region than to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan because those countries have yet to utilize the existing economic and trade opportunities due to problems and lack of required capacity in production and exportation of goods, and on the other hand People’s Republic of China (PRC) which shares borders on the north-east with Afghanistan has recently became a major industrial and trading country in the world, products of which has heavily influenced products of the entire world.

Considering the above facts the countries located in Western Asia, and Arab countries are in acute need for road communications via Afghanistan to People’s Republic of China (PRC), as is the Islamic Republic of Iran to be connected to that country via Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan by train. When Afghanistan acquires the capacity to build a port and the road via Vakhan Valley to Xinjiang province of China, then Afghanistan would get not only better transit advantages but this route would serve as a shortest path for export of products of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to West Asian countries by road, and on the other hand China for increase of its productions would need more raw materials and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan could be the source for supply of those materials because this country as a linking land bridge which offers unique opportunities for the economic development of the region.

Thus, one of important discussions regarding regional and international cooperation is transit of goods.

Since communications among people from the time when transportation means were first made in their advanced form and mankind was able to better recognize and improve its surrounding world and the development of science and technology and utilization of new and advanced transportation equipment and development of industry in the world took place, the location of our country played an effective role in the growth of trade. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is one of those countries which possesses especial geographical location with special transit advantage, and can desirably use this advantage through the extension of transport, transit, communication networks and establishment of a reliable transportation system to enhance economic benefits.

Transit through roads in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has more than three thousand years history, including the Silk Route which played major role in the transit of goods. Historical records suggest that the Silk Route during many centuries AD, in addition of being not only one of the ancient routes for exchange of goods between East and West in also played an important role in cultural exchanges between the two.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan given its special strategic location has acted as a corridor for transit of merchandise and served as a land bridge between East and West and North and South.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan considering its strategic location in the region and by utilization of this exceptional advantage for transit which is considered a source of income and employment, must be  a priority for the country. This is at a juncture where the Former Soviet Union and newly established countries after its collapse are in acute need for establishing of a reliable transit route for connection with countries in South Asia, and access the free waters. Given these conditions a country which facilitates transit of goods for other countries is benefiting itself and at the same time delivers shipments via appropriate routes to their destinations.

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan must utilize this advantage in a better manner, in this regard one shall add that only strategic location of countries is not enough to provide regional connectivity but this requires the following actions as well:

Completion of Railway project Sangan-Khaf in the Islamic Republic of Iran and its extension up to Herat in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the extension of the Railroad from Aqina up to Shirkhan Bandar and finally into Tajikistan, operationalization of final station of the Hairatan-Mazar-e-Sharif railroad, completion of transportation of energy which includes electricity transmission project from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan-CASA 1000- operationalization of route to Chabahar port, Lapis Lazuli Route Agreement for exports and imports. In brief Afghanistan position as the hub of trade, transit and transport corridor connecting east with west, and north with south is obvious.  Undoubtedly this would give a major impetus for economic development and growth, not only of Afghanistan, but of other regional countries as well. –The elimination of obstacles on implementation of TIR   (give the expanded form of TIR system and what it means) system may be considered as an  opportunity  which would lead to better economic stimulus not only in this country but at the regional level.

Sayed Yahya Akhlaqi (Ph.D)—Director of Transit and Trade Facilitation in Afghanistan Ministry of Commerce and Industries, and University Lecturer