China is Afghanistan’s next-door neighbor. Modern history shows sustained peace between Afghanistan and China. Soon after becoming Afghanistan’s president in 2014, Ashraf Ghani paid an official visit to China reaffirming his country’s commitment to sustaining the friendly relations between the neighbors. President Ghani also emphasized strategic ties with China in the very long term.
China and Afghanistan established diplomatic ties in 1955. In 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, China not only condemned the aggression, but also provided political and military support to the Afghan freedom struggle. Afghans will remain grateful for the Chinese support to our freedom struggle.
In the wake of new developments in post-Taliban Afghanistan, China’s role was supportive and stabilizing. In January 2002, when then chairman of the Afghan Interim Government Hamid Karzai visited China, then Chinese president Jiang Zemin announced an aid package worth $150 million for Afghanistan. For a war-ravaged country recovering from several decades of war and conflict, the financial support was quite generous a gift from a trustworthy friend. China and Afghanistan also signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good-neighborly Relations in 2006 that provides a solid foundation for our future engagement.
Instability in Afghanistan directly affects China. The latest efforts by the US special envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad have raised new hopes of a breakthrough in the peace process with the Taliban. On this occasion, China has persuaded Pakistan to help push the peace process forward. China can also persuade Pakistan to cooperate with Afghanistan in the implementation of the Afghanistan Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity. Although the peace process is owned and led by the Afghan government, regional consensus, particularly among neighbors, cannot be overemphasized.
China is the world’s second largest economy and the most populous country. It has a huge human capital and a wealth of technical knowhow. During the past 17 years, it has contributed to the development and rehabilitation of Afghanistan. One noteworthy support for Afghanistan has been in the housing sector. China will build housing complexes for public servants in Kabul and provincial capitals. The first phase of the housing project with a budget of 500 million yuan ($72 million) will soon start through the Afghanistan Ministry of Urban Development and Housing. Once completed, it will be a symbol of friendship between Afghanistan and China.
Foreign assistance in the form of grants provides relief in the short term, which is important for a country like Afghanistan still recovering from war and conflict. Yet, long-term economic growth requires foreign investment rather than aid.
Despite multiple security challenges, Afghanistan has been during the past several years able to remove various institutional barriers to foreign investment, offering a favorable environment for cash infusion from abroad. Afghanistan is open for business and the country offers great potential in various development sectors, in particular mining and infrastructure.
Some Chinese companies have already started modest investment in Afghanistan. There is a need for boosting it. Such huge infrastructure companies like the China Communication Construction Company that do business not only in China but around the world has great opportunity to undertake infrastructure development in Afghanistan.
The Belt and Road initiative (BRI) pioneered by President Xi Jinping is an important strategy for intra and inter-regional connectivity and economic growth. It is hoped Afghanistan can be a significant part of BRI and avail the opportunities therein.
Both Afghanistan and China inherit rich civilizations. They have lived peacefully together for centuries and the legacy must be continued by the current and future leaders of the nations. Afghanistan and China can benefit from each other through political, economic and geo-strategic ties and act as stabilizing forces for the region.
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