Belt & Road initiative & Afghanistan

The Silk Road Through Afghanistan

During a state visit by H.E. the Chief Executive of Afghanistan, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah to China, in May 2016, the Afghan and Chinese Foreign Ministers signed a Memorandum of Understanding to boost various areas of cooperation between the two countries under the Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI). First proposed by China in 2013, the initiative is a major regional economic trade and infrastructure platform, aimed at building connectivity between China and the rest of Eurasia, primarily by way of the ocean-based “Maritime Silk Road” and the land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt.” This initiative seeks to integrate the wider region into a cohesive economic area by broadening trade, constructing infrastructure, and promoting cultural exchanges. Given its location at the crossroads of Central, South, and Southwest Asia, Afghanistan is well placed to partner with China and connect to the wider region via BRI.

China has planned to build northern, central, and southern belts, with the northern belt going through Central Asia and Russia to Europe; the central belt traversing Central Asia and West Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean; and the southern belt starting from China and proceeding to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean. Afghanistan is, therefore, positioned to effectively contribute to the wider objectives of the Belt-and-Road Initiative.

Current Status

In August 2016 the first Chinese train traveled from western China to Afghanistan, via a winding route through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, arriving at the land port of Hairatan in September. Commercial freight goods valued at USD $4 million were transported 7300 kilometers in 14 days). Achieving this landmark connectivity milestone signaled the arrival of the new “Sino-Afghanistan Special Railway Transportation Project,” which is slated to reduce trading costs between both nations by 30%. Together both sides have made initial plans for a transit schedule of two trains per month. From China, they will transport textiles, electronic products, and construction materials inter alia; returning from Afghanistan, the trains will carry, marble, leather, wool, cashmere, saffron, dried fruit, and pine seed inter alia.

The MoU states “[t]he two sides shall jointly promote cooperation on the One-Belt-One Road Initiative in a bid to realize the goal of common development, and translate the advantages of solid political ties, economic complementarities, and people-to-people exchanges into pragmatic cooperation in an effort to promote increasing economic growth.” Well-resourced in both financial and human capital, BRI is poised to serve as an integral element of the Afghan Government’s Infrastructure and Connectivity Development and Private Sector Development National Priority Programs.

A number of joint academic activities and site visits have been held both in China and Afghanistan under the BRI. A new trilateral cooperation framework has recently been initiated between Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China with a view to promote economic cooperation among the three countries within the Belt and Road Initiative and RECCA. Two meetings of this framework have so far been held in Beijing and Kabul respectively. In addition, in mid-2016 Kabul-Urumqi flights resumed. Additionally, Afghanistan became a permanent member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in October this year, which will further facilitate cooperation on infrastructure development between the two countries under the BRI and RECCA.

Budget & Funding Status China has pledged investments totaling more than USD $100 billion to the countries of Greater Central Asia to be sourced, in part, from a USD $40 billion Silk Road Fund and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
Institutional Partners Afghanistan, China, the Central Asian Republics, Pakistan, and a growing number of Eurasian countries are associated with the BRI

 Recommended Actions by RECCA-VII and Beyond:

  • Build on the successful launch of the new trans Asian railway project, identify and pursue other areas of BRI-related regional economic cooperation, including in the areas of energy development, natural resource extraction, and financial services.
  • Further promote the trilateral economic cooperation framework within the Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Intensify efforts to transform Afghanistan into a regional trade and transit hub by expanding current trade and transport agreements both northward and southward to connect with the rapidly growing Belt-and-Road Initiative corridors.