The Importance of Regional Connectivity for Afghanistan and Pakistan

Afghanistan is termed the ‘heart of Asia’, connecting different regions, especially Central Asia, via Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, South Asia via Pakistan and the Middle East, via Iran. Afghanistan is rich in hidden minerals. The country has “60 million tons of copper, 2.2 million tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lodes of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury, lithium” as described in the geological survey of the United States. The country is sitting over 3 trillion dollar mineral resources. Afghanistan need regional connectivity for its mineral resources in order to boost its economic growth.

However, Afghanistan has experienced decades of conflict and lawlessness, and untapped resources need mining machinery to support the country’s economy. Regional connectivity projects could improve Afghanistan and Pakistan’s economies in the future if peace prevails. Regional connectivity will also assist restore Afghanistan’s ailing economy, most notably by connecting Afghanistan to India’s largest marketplace. Improved infrastructure would allow countries to do trade through ground routes that are more cost-effective than the present air routes.

The county is part of important connectivity initiatives including the Lapis Lazuli corridor that would link Afghanistan to Europe via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. China- Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) extension could potentially help Afghanistan become part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Pakistan could possibly reach Central Asian energy markets using Afghanistan as a gateway. Notably, for trade and energy resources, Pakistan might also use Afghanistan as a route to Europe via Central Asia. Moreover, energy infrastructure initiatives are ongoing to link regions: for instance, the Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) Electricity Transmission project will send excess hydroelectric power from Central Asia to the communities in South Asia, whereas Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas connectivity project will reinforce trade and gas pipeline will operate throughout the involved countries. The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program is a more substantial endeavor, brought up by eleven countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan spanning Central, South and East Asia to encourage development. But extended road and rail infrastructure will be required to expand corridors and optimise regional connectivity gains. Afghanistan has historic ties with the Central Asian republics as the country shares the same ethnic linkages with its brethren in Central Asia. Historically, Afghanistan was a Silk Road route for centuries. Peace and stability in Afghanistan will improve transit connectivity in the whole of the region of Asia, as Afghanistan instability will impact neighboring instability and its stability will also influence regional stability.

A peaceful Afghanistan will be in benefit of the region and above all, advantageous for Pakistan. A connecting land route from Afghanistan to Central Asia will provide a more effective and cheap alternative to Pakistan’s present routes via Iran or China. With this link, Pakistan would indeed be able to obtain market opportunities for its goods and agriculture products and improve relations with Afghanistan and beyond.

Importantly, two opportunities that really are key to accomplishing Pakistan’s 2025 vision, which seeks to revitalise transport infrastructure and increased regional connectivity using Afghanistan as a gateway. This could also enable Pakistan focus more on geo-economics than geopolitics.

For all this to happen, it’s important both for Afghanistan and Pakistan to normalise relations as it will benefit the people on each side. Genuine steps need to be taken to avert blame games and work towards a more prosperous region in terms of economic growth.

Moreover, Pakistan has conspicuously been lacking to produce electrical energy in summer. As Pakistan’s population grows, it seeks a route to fulfill the demand of its energy. Notably, Afghanistan is the gateway to the rich Central Asian republics to fulfill Pakistan’s energy demands for the future.

Both states can avail the opportunity to manage the energy crisis using connectivity projects.  Pakistan’s population growth was 2.00% in 2020. If the population keeps growing at the same rate, Pakistan would need more economic opportunities for its people. Pakistan’s economy grew moderately over the past two decades. Annual per capita growth averaged just 2%, less than half the average in South Asia, mainly due to uneven macroeconomic policies and under-reliance on export growth to generate growth in the economy.

Instability in Afghanistan will cause greater impact on the economy of Pakistan in the future; a stable Afghanistan will open a way for Pakistan to grow more economically.

Economic connectivity is interlinked with peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan in particular and the region in general will face the economic burden of Afghan instability.

Policy makers and politicians in Pakistan know the cost of unstable Afghanistan. It is high time for the entire region to assist Afghan government in reaching a peace deal with the Taliban. If there is no peace agreement between Afghan government and Taliban, neither Central Asian republics nor Pakistan will be able to manage the foreseeable contingency of energy and economic crisis.

Ihsanullah Omarkhail

Ihsanullah Omarkhail is a Ph.D. candidate in the field of Non-Traditional Security Management at Zhejiang University, China. His research areas include Terrorism, Peace, State building, China-US competition.

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