The process that started with the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 has had many reflections. Especially Afghanistan’s stability and security are considered essential for regional trade. In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents the views of Mohammed Asif Noor, Director of Pakistan Institute of Peace and Diplomacy, on the reflections of developments in Afghanistan on Pakistan and the future of trade corridors.
1. How do you assess the current situation in Afghanistan? Will the process evolve to stability or instability?
The current situation in Afghanistan is turning more volatile day by day as the Taliban regime has remained unable to satisfy the international community on its promises made in the Doha agreement. There have been many efforts at the regional and sub-regional level for the peace as recently Uzbekistan organized a conference on Afghanistan where Taliban representative were invited. Later Uzbekistan also hosted SCO Foreign Minister’s summit where the discussion was on Afghanistan as well.
Regional countries are nervous especially those sharing borders with Afghanistan. The foremost being not allowing the terrorists to operate on Afghan soil but the death of terrorist organization Al-Qaeda Chief Eiman Al-Zawahiri during an airstrike in Kabul raised serious questions especially harbouring and providing safe heavens to the high ranked terrorists. There are more risks of terrorism and insecurity which are becoming more sensitive. This killing of a high profiled terrorist leader from terrorist organization Al-Qaeda has also reflected deep rifts in Taliban as well. On the other hand Pakistan also continues to raise its concerns over the presence of terrorist organization TTP in Afghanistan. Besides, there are drone attacks that causes Afghanistan to face with humanitarian crises by the United States of America (USA). Thousands of people leaving country and multiple human and women rights issues evolved brought attention of international media in Afghanistan, made situation noticeable however, the world is concerned more about terrorism for which international organizations and USA want to have geographically close allies in South Asia. The inclusive government claimed by the Taliban is not a problem with the West but controlled reimposed severe rules of the Taliban government is.
2. If the process in Afghanistan evolves to stability, Pakistan’s economy can benefit from it in the consideration of the trade corridor?
Yes, if Afghanistan evolves stability in the process, Pakistan can benefit from it. “Peaceful neighbourhood” has been a vital component of foreign policy of Pakistan. Pakistan always prefers to forge friendly and brotherly ties with Afghanistan and other neighbours. Afghanistan has been exporting raw cotton to Pakistan for almost 17 years, which benefits Pakistan’s economy as both countries have substantial routes. Trade corridor will get both countries closer and help both countries to have strategic ties with each other on the security front. Pakistan is more geared towards bringing peace and development in Pakistan that gives Pakistan the advantage of trade routes for having economic ties. Most of the trade ties with Central Asian countries and beyond is through Afghanistan, if Afghanistan is stable there will be a stability not only for Pakistan but for the entire region.
3. Based on trade corridors and a win-win economic approach, Is there a potential for expansion of cooperation between Pakistan and countries in the region such as Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan? If it is yes, which projects can be realized?
Yes, firstly TAPI is an important peace pipeline between Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan and India. TAPI is at the execution stage where recently on Asia’s harbinger of peace and prosperity line, Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India(TAPI) natural gas pipeline where the ground breaking ceremonies were organized in border cities of both Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. TAPI has been proven as the lifeline for the peace and prosperity for Afghanistan and the energy web is brining the regional actors in a close net manner that this project will generate far-reaching effect on the security, stability and development of the region. The countries connected into this maze of prosperity were earlier finding it difficult to adjust in such a beneficial setting keeping in view their age-old rivalries and geostrategic driven political games wherein they were locked into their positions.
There is a strong interest from both Pakistan and Chinese side to expand CPEC towards Afghanistan in order to help the country to come out of the crisis.
Another important project is the railway line Besides Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTCA) is a potential authority to extend economic ties between countries by involving a joint economic commission built by Pakistan and Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has proposed Trans Afghan railway project were at the moment the initial mapping and other studies on such an important and path breaking connectivity project will be implemented. This railway will extend the railway network from Mazar e Sharif to Kabul and then to Nangarhar province and from there to Torkham into Pakistan via Peshawar. Central Asian Republics and Pakistan will get closer into economic ties using such important connectivity projects and this way there is a greater chance for the foreign direct investment (FDI) opportunities for Pakistan. Trade and Energy projects that are linking Central Asian states with South Asian regions has the potential to boost economic ties among countries. It is providing a great opportunity for Pakistan to explore non-traditional markets in the region. Besides, Central Asian states are hot developing markets to other countries to invest in.