China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project is all set to step into Afghanistan. The Taliban-led Government in Kabul recently agreed with China and Pakistan on a proposal in this regard. The BRI, also referred to as the New Silk Road that is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived, has been limited to Pakistan (in South Asia) for so long. It may be noted that Chinese President Xi Jinping had launched this project in 2013. Earlier, Beijing had claimed that the project would help improve Pakistan’s economy. Although the project has made progress somewhat in Pakistan over the past few years, Islamabad’s experience is not so happy. Instead of making a steady economic growth, Pakistan has gone bankrupt. In fact, Defence Minister of the South Asian nation Khawaja Asif admitted the fact in February 2023. Now, Beijing wants to infiltrate Afghanistan in a similar fashion.
The economy of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan is already shaky, as a number of countries have imposed economic sanctions on the war-ravaged nation since the return of the Deobandi Islamic fundamentalist and Pashtun nationalist militant group to power on August 15, 2021 (after a gap of more than two decades). In such a situation, China has decided to begin multi-million Dollar construction works in Afghanistan under the BRI project. In other words, the Asian Giant has planned to increase its influence in Afghanistan, after neighbouring Pakistan.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met his Pakistani counterpart Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Islamabad on May 6, 2023 to discuss this particular issue. Reports suggest that the two countries pledged to work together for the reconstruction of neighbouring Afghanistan. It may be noted that the entire China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project would cost approximately USD 6.6 billion, with the bulk of financing to be distributed by various Chinese state-owned banks. Both Beijing and Islamabad have claimed that the project would help Afghanistan improve its economic conditions in near future. They have issued a joint statement after the meeting of their foreign ministers, mentioning that the CPEC would be extended to Afghanistan in an attempt to provide the Afghan people with economic assistance and to ensure the overall economic development of the country.
President Xi had launched the BRI project in Pakistan nearly a decade ago. Now, the Taliban Government in Kabul has accepted this proposal in the hope of economic development. Incidentally, much of Afghanistan’s economic wealth lies in foreign countries. Those countries have refused to return Afghanistan’s assets to the Taliban, saying that they would not allow the militant outfit to use the assets for terrorist activities. China and Pakistan have mentioned in the joint statement that foreign countries should return those assets to Kabul. According to the statement, Beijing and Islamabad would try to discuss the issue with those countries.
Earlier, the US had agreed to return half of Afghanistan’s assets, allowing Kabul to use them for the country’s economic development. However, Washington DC changed its decision after the Taliban Government banned girls from schools and workplaces in Afghanistan. The US also believes that the BRI project would not help Afghanistan improve its economy.
In fact, a section of people in Pakistan is of the opinion that China is making unilateral gains by using the BRI project, while the local business and industrial establishments in Pakistan are suffering losses. As a result, anger among Pakistani businessmen about CPEC has increased in recent times. While launching the road project in 2015, Beijing had promised that the initiative would boost Pakistan’s annual financial growth by at least 2.5%, and increase employment opportunities. China further claimed that the project would develop power infrastructure and stable the fuel supply. However, those predictions did not come true. Instead, Pakistan’s economy has gradually weakened in the past six years.
It may be noted that the West had warned Pakistan about the CPEC, stating that China would enjoy the benefit of the Corridor. This prediction of Europe and the US has come true. As China has started exporting its products to Pakistan through this Corridor, the production sector of the South Asian nation feels the heat. According to some Pakistani business leaders, it becomes quite easier to transport various products from China to Pakistan through the CPEC. At the same time, it has become increasingly difficult to transport something from Pakistan to China because of various restrictions imposed by the Chinese authorities. They believe that China shall create a similar situation in Afghanistan in the coming years. Experts have opined that China would use the Taliban-ruled country for its own benefit.
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