By Qura tul ain Hafeez
China intends to extend the CPEC into Afghanistan which is a positive move towards regional economic integration. So, it has played a vital role in bringing the two countries on table. Pakistan recently had its 4th meeting of Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) on May 14, 2018, which can further pave the bilateral relations among the two neighbors – Pakistan and Afghanistan, thus eventually materializing the CPEC to extend towards Afghanistan. The two sides showed their interest to promote pace and solidarity among six different areas mutually beneficial for them. These areas include commitments including: Pakistan’s support for Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation; to undertake effective actions against fugitives and the irreconcilable elements posing security threats to either of the two countries; deny use of their respective territory by any country, network, group or individuals for anti-state activities against either country, to put in place a joint supervision, coordination and confirmation mechanism; avoid territorial and aerial violations of each other’s territory; no public blame game, instead APAPPS cooperation mechanisms would be utilized to respond to mutual issues of contention and concerns and working groups and necessary cooperation mechanism would be set up as per APAPPS. Upon successful implementation of this joint action plan the two countries will meet the common objectives of eliminating terrorism and achieving peace, stability, prosperity and development of the people of the two countries.
Continuing to achieve the peace and solidarity will help improve the economic relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the political constraints and terrorism, extremism, and separatism are the major contributing factors behind the poor economic and trade relation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. At present, for Pakistan, CPEC is the window for economic development. However this window of opportunity faces severe security challenges. In this regard, the APAPPS will be instrumental in improving the security situation in Pakistan specifically in terms of curbing terrorism. Once these security challenges will be addressed the possibility of extending CPEC to Afghanistan will be even more likely.
Moreover China has been quite helpful in promoting these peace talks between Pakistan- and Afghanistan. This will provide not only a smooth regional connectivity to CPEC but a broader perspective for OBOR initiative. With the extension of CPEC into Afghanistan, the country can become a major beneficiary of this project because in near future the corridor will add to the economic development of this fragile country-Afghanistan, by enhancing economic activities in the area which can put the flimsy economy of Afghanistan on a sound footing, eventually securing and bringing peace to the westward borders of Pakistan. There are several connectivity projects that Pakistan, China and Afghanistan can undertake if become partners under the CPEC. The significant road projects that may be incorporated in the economic connectivity to Afghanistan envisages 265 km Peshawar to Kabul motorway and the road link connecting western alignment of CPEC to Afghanistan by linking Chaman to Kandahar, Mazar-i-Sharif to Termez near the border of Central Asian countries. This passage will offer an effortless and short access to Afghanistan in order to connect to the sea port of Gwadar (which is almost 600 kilometres shorter than the presently existing transit route being used by the traders and people of Afghanistan). This connection will integrate Afghanistan with other regions and also allow it to start commercial activities through the Indian Ocean.
Consequently the Chinese efforts for APAPPS will bring Kabul and Islamabad much closer, which is the need of the hour. This will also address Chinese fears about the spread of Islamist militancy from Pakistan and Afghanistan to the unrest-prone far western Chinese region of Xinjiang. This is not the first time that China is paying a role of mediator in solving the conflict of interest and grievances between the parties involved in CPEC. Previously China has played a vital role in bringing the Baloch tribes on the table to discuss the matters related to CPEC. So, the APAPPS will provide a forum to enhance connectivity and cooperation through CPEC projects with neighboring countries, including Afghanistan, Iran and with Central and West Asian states.
Qura tul ain Hafeez has done M Phil in international relations from Quaid-I Azam University Islamabad. She is currently working as a Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute Islamabad.