Irshad Salim — The first round of Pakistan-China-Afghanistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue was held in Beijing on Saturday with the aim to promote trilateral cooperation under One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative and its flagship project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
All three countries stand to gain enormously by welcoming Afghanistan to CPEC, if security issues common to them can be tackled collectively, observers say.
China has long harbored an interest in Afghanistan’s untapped reserves of natural resources (specially its vast copper deposits), but the security situation in the country has prevented further investments and procurement.
As far as Pakistan is concerned, it will benefit from easier access to Central Asia and Europe through Afghanistan, as well as economic relief from the return of several million Afghan refugees to their country once the security situation is stabilized.
As a landlocked, terrorism- and militancy-prone nation, Afghanistan is in desperate need of infrastructural development and uplifting its economy by access to Chinese investors. And Pakistan providing the Afghans shipping and trade access to the Middle East and Africa both ways will generate multilateral and multifaceted socio-economic benefits to them as well as to the two partners – China and Pakistan in the CPEC.
Thus, it appears that trilateral cooperation to include Afghanistan into CPEC can be a win for all parties involved, subject to regional peace and stability and each country’s security issue — they are the same, several experts said.
According to these experts, the cooperation will undoubtedly enhance Afghanistan’s security situation directly, as well as restive southwest China’s and Pakistan’s western and northwestern region as collateral benefit, increase connectivity, and open up vast natural resources contiguous between Afghanistan and Pakistan for foreign investment.
In Kabul recently, Finance Minister Eklil Ahmad Hakimi truly captured the importance of the OBOR and CPEC for his country when he said, “China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project could provide hope and opportunities for the war-torn Afghanistan.” However, in order for the “hope and opportunities” to take shape, Afghanistan must cooperate with Pakistan and China in order to make its inclusion into CPEC a reality.
Media reported that The Dialogue for trilateral cooperation was co-chaired by a very high profile officials team. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director General Xiao Qian and Afghan Ministry of Finance Director General Khalid Payenda attended the meeting.
The fact that the three sides exchanged in-depth views on trilateral cooperation in a friendly atmosphere and agreed to promote practical measures for cooperation is significant as these countries prepare to attend a regional security and good neighborliness forum — the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meet next month. Pakistan and India will be formally inducted in the framework.
That the participants noted trilateral cooperation among Pakistan, Afghanistan and China being conducive to peace, stability and development of Afghanistan and the region appears to underline growing trust level they have specific to CPEC being an enabler of conducive geoeconomic and geostrategic environment beneficial to all.
“The three countries appreciated the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and its benefits for promoting regional connectivity,” the report said.
“They agreed to advance practical cooperation in various areas so as to promote mutual benefit and regional economic integration under the framework of the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) Initiative.”
Pakistan and China said they will explore trilateral cooperation in areas of infrastructure, energy, education, health, agriculture, human resource training and capacity building based on the needs of Afghanistan and according to China and Pakistan’s respective assistance programs for Afghanistan.
The three sides according to reports also agreed to make the Pakistan-China-Afghanistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue a regular forum – another welcome sign for the restive region yearning for regional trade and connectivity to mitigate non-integrating gaps among them.
However, while China and Pakistan can play major roles in transforming Afghanistan, the biggest contribution has to come from the country itself, experts said. “The Afghanistan government must take policy steps to facilitate smooth participation in CPEC and the OBOR and keep the ‘spoilers’ at arms-length,” said one analyst without naming these countries.