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14 Sep 2022

Zofeen Ebrahim, The Third Pole (UK)

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to extend to Afghanistan although security and environmental issues loom large

"Extension of CPEC to Afghanistan could link infrastructure across continent" 14 September 2022

"Once the highway becomes a motorway, trucking supplies to Afghanistan will become much faster,” said Shakir Afridi, president of the transport union for Khyber district, in northwest Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Afridi had recently heard that a motorway is to be built between Peshawar and Kabul, going on to Uzbekistan, as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). “It will be good for our business if we can go all the way up to Uzbekistan,” he said.

CPEC started in 2013 as a USD 47 billion bilateral agreement between China and Pakistan to build transport networks, energy projects and special economic zones, financed by China. It has grown to an estimated USD 62 billion. Now, China wants CPEC to be extended to Afghanistan.

This was confirmed by Ahsan Iqbal, Pakistan’s federal minister for planning, development and special initiatives, in an exclusive phone interview to The Third Pole. “This will provide Pakistan a unique opportunity to leverage its geo-location for regional connectivity,” he said. [...]

Security issues

Security issues loom large and, with Pakistan’s economy in free fall, Kugelman said that the time was not right “to be thinking about ambitious, long-term connectivity projects next door”.

The worsening security situation makes it difficult for Afghanistan “to secure a credit line with financial institutions”, said Burna-Asefi.

“For China, safety and security will take precedence over economic activity,” predicted Sayed. The presence of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (a Uyghur Islamic extremist organisation founded in western China), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS or Daesh) and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan continue to cast a cloud over regional development.

Without stability in Afghanistan, “China, can invest [a little] and make long-term promises, but won’t budge beyond this,” said Burna-Asefi. [...]

Environmental cost

Another question hanging over the project is its environmental impact and climate resilience. While CPEC has a stated aim to pursue clean energy projects, much of it has been cement, steel and coal-intensive infrastructure in Pakistan. The construction of railway lines and the road into Afghanistan as part of CPEC’s extension may mean more of the same. “Afghanistan, like all of South Asia, is acutely vulnerable to climate change effects, including drought. There’s reason to worry that intensive new development projects could further exacerbate Afghanistan’s water insecurity,” pointed out Kugelman. [...]