Regional Connectivity, Regional Peace Via Afghanistan
Sitting at the intersections of many regions, the location of Afghanistan has exposed it to the tumults of geopolitics as much as it has placed it at the center of flourishing trade routes all along. Serving as a land-bridge between the present-day regions of Central, South and West Asia, Afghanistan has drawn interest of regional and global players alike. Apart from its vital geographical location on the world map, the recently discovered mineral riches possessed by this country have made this country appear to be an even more important proposition for investment. But even as a stable Afghanistan holds a lot of economic promises, the geopolitics of the present, much like the past, have subjected it to regional and global rivalries. These rivalries have in turn created and accentuated fissures within Afghanistan, making stability and security an even distant dream for this war-affected country.
In light of the geopolitical challenges that have beset the restoration of order and security in Afghanistan, it has become imperative to induce impetuses that can enhance this country’s appeal as the round-about for trading routes. One such recent initiative has been the operationalization of the Chabahar Port in Iran.
Emerging from trilateral cooperation between India, Iran and Afghanistan, the rationale behind the establishment of this port is different for each country. For Afghanistan, the significance of this port lies in the potential it has to reduce the country’s dependence on Pakistan for conducting its trade. As a landlocked country, Chabahar has opened another route for Afghanistan in the vital sea lanes having direct access to Indian Ocean, allowing it to connect to the world using an alternative option. In fact, the port of Chabahar is 800 km closer to the economic center in Afghanistan than both the ports at Karachi (Pakistan) and Bandar Abbas (Iran). Furthermore, the establishment of this port has come along with the development of rail and road networks in the western provinces of Afghanistan. These conjoined national and international infrastructural developments are expected to have positive impact for the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Similarly, the building of this port has been of geostrategic import to India as well. On the one hand, where the relevance of Chabahar lies in its ability to bypass Pakistan for trading with Afghanistan, on the other, it is pitted to compete with the Gwadar Port being built by China. For Iran, the operationalization of this port is expected to increase international interest in its markets. Having been out of the global economic fray for long, Iran’s re-integration with this world can be serviced better with this oceanic port that is capable of handling bigger cargo ships.
Creating a Web of Interactions
Enhanced connectivity and the economic interactions that follow are built on the faith that interdependence can help overcome reasons for conflict. It is precisely this belief that has driven Afghanistan to weave regional dialogues around its own redevelopment, sending out a valid message that its stability and security holds the key for greater regional prosperity. Positioning itself as a connector between different regions and their respective member-states, Afghanistan’s participation in regional dialogues and infrastructural projects is conveyed as not only essential for itself but also for the growth and stability of the countries around it.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HOA-IP) has been an effort in this direction. Established in 2011, HOA-IP is a platform that brings together fourteen participating countries from Central, South and West Asia and an equal number of supporting countries and supporting organizations from across the world. The purpose of this initiative is to encourage dialogue between these regional actors on matters concerning security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.
The emphasis of HOA-IP is on the valid belief that greater regional cooperation lies at the heart of the revival of Afghanistan as a stable and secured land-bridge, and that in doing so, the member-states can reap the dividends of greater economic growth. Stressing this idea much, the recently concluded ministerial dialogue in Baku was organized around the theme of, “Security & Economic Connectivity towards a Strengthened Heart of Asia Region”.
Mooted for generating regional consensus around the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, Salahuddin Rabbani observed that “indeed, connectivity through Afghanistan will facilitate increased trade, transit, and investment, thereby ensuring economic growth throughout the region. In turn, this will help stabilize Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia region against such major common security threats as terrorism, radicalism, and criminality, which hinder our shared prosperity towards regional economic integration.”
Echoing a similar opinion, the Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, M.J. Akbaremphasized that a stable, connected Afghanistan is in the interest of all the participating countries alike. Recognizing the “undeniable potential to emerge as the land-bridge between various parts of the vast and dynamic Eurasian landmass”, Akbar reiteratedthat for India the “issue for connectivity for Afghanistan is not a mere talking point”. However, affected by what he addresses as the ‘incomprehensible ill-will’ of a ‘certain neighbour’, heobserved that the “best benefits will accrue only when trade and transit agreements involving Afghanistan become fully inclusive, comprehensive and, most importantly, are fully activated”.
A Cause for Region
The importance of regional progress is not lost on any country that, in direct and indirect ways, has been affected by the continuing conflicts and the lack of stability and security in Afghanistan. Given its vital geo-strategic location between the resource abundant Central Asia and a blossoming market in South Asia, it would make obvious economic sense to redevelop Afghanistan for its own prosperity and that of the countries in these two immediate regions. To this effect, projects such as CASA-1000, TAPI, Five Nations Railway, Asian International Railway Corridor among other projects are expected to facilitate not only the redevelopment of Afghanistan but also ensure greater regional prosperity.
Regional connectivity and the ensuing economic interactions can scatter the apparent political and strategic mistrust that prevails between many countries in the two regions, especially in South Asia. The advantages of greater regional cooperation built around the redevelopment of Afghanistan are many. However, the current environment in this part of the world is still not permitting its member states to rise above their short-term, short-sighted goals. The operationalization of the bilateral air freight corridor between India and Afghanistan and the functioning of the trilateral Chabahar Port is certainly happy news. However, these bilateral and trilateral efforts, loaded as they are with the intent to bypass other nation(s) will only yield results in a limited manner. For true progress to come Afghanistan, and through it to the regions it sits in-between, it is required that the resistance and roadblocks to a stable, democratic Afghanistan are removed from every quarter.
Courtesy: With permission reproduced from www.claws.in