[Opinion] Summit to help stabilize situation in Afghanistan
SONG CHEN/CHINA DAILY
Without a unified international community, it will be impossible to promote lasting peace and stability in the country
On May 8, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that President Xi Jinping would chair the two-day China-Central Asia summit in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, scheduled for May 18 and 19, which will be the first offline summit of the heads of state of the six countries. One of the topics of these talks will be stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan.
The previous Afghan governments had been continuously negotiating with the countries of Central Asia to establish economic cooperation. Among them are large-scale infrastructure projects such as the Termez (Uzbekistan)-Mazar-i-Sharif-Kabul-Peshawar Railway, with further access to the Pakistani railway network and further to the ports of the Indian Ocean, and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline. However, the implementation of these projects was interrupted after the Taliban returned to power.
Since much of the international community, including the United Nations, does not recognize the Taliban government, there was a political and economic vacuum around this long-suffering country for almost two years. In the meantime, due to the boycott by the international community, the situation in the country for its ordinary citizens has become catastrophic. A UN report released in March made it clear that 6 million people in Afghanistan are at risk of starvation, and two-thirds of the population suffer from severe hunger and urgently need help.
It has now become clear that if the country's isolation continues, it will face a large-scale humanitarian catastrophe. In this situation, special representatives of the seven neighboring countries of Afghanistan — China, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan — met in March in Tashkent, Uzbekistan and agreed to take measures to help Kabul by creating a special group for interaction with the war-torn country. Among other things, the group called for the lifting of the freeze on the assets of the Afghan Central Bank. The United States has frozen about $7 billion of the bank's assets and the European Union froze another $2 billion since the Taliban came to power two years ago.
At the meeting, it was pointed out that without the international community developing a unified position, it will be impossible to resolve the acute social and humanitarian crisis and promote lasting peace and stability in the country. The importance of implementing energy, transport and logistics infrastructure projects in Afghanistan was especially noted.
Among the participants in the new working group of Afghanistan's neighbors, a unique role is assigned to China, which is the region's most powerful economy. The stabilization of Afghanistan is a matter of priority for Beijing in terms of fighting with the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism and extremism.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Amir Khan Muttaki in Islamabad on May 6. At the meeting, it was agreed that Afghanistan would be included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to help promote the country's reconstruction. The Chinese and Pakistani authorities had previously discussed the inclusion of Afghanistan in the project, and the Taliban government has expressed its willingness to take part in it.
Qin said that both Beijing and Islamabad were "ready to actively support Afghanistan with its economic reconstruction". "We hope that the Taliban will embrace inclusive governance and moderate policies and maintain friendly relations with its neighbors," he told reporters. A similar tone was adopted by Pakistani Foreign Minister Zardari, who stated, "Our consistent message to the Afghan authorities has been 'help us help you'."
Afghanistan, which is endowed with strategic resources such as rare earths and non-ferrous metals, could become a key trade and economic partner of China, as among its natural resources are praseodymium, cerium, lanthanum, neodymium and gadolinium, which are in huge demand in the high-tech market.
Afghanistan is also rich in hydrocarbons. In 2011, the China National Petroleum Corporation won a $400 million tender to extract oil over 25 years from three oil fields containing approximately 87 million barrels of oil. Some steps in this direction are already being taken. For example, in January the Afghan government signed a contract with China's Xinjiang Central Asia Petroleum and Gas for oil production in the Amu Darya River basin in the north of the country.
The results inspire optimism in the development of the situation around Afghanistan. Neighboring states are interested in stabilizing the country and are ready to mobilize their political and economic resources to find practical solutions for the peaceful and harmonious development of the region. If this happens, the construction of a new Silk Road and the revival of Greater Central Asia will not be far off.
The author is a former prime minister of Kyrgyzstan and a distinguished professor at the Belt and Road School at Beijing Normal University. He is the author of Central Asia's Economic Rebirth in the Shadow of the New Great Game.