Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, October 22nd, 2018

Building a New and Prosperous Silk Road


Building a New and  Prosperous Silk Road

For much of the history, Afghanistan was located at the heart of the famous Silk Road which connected the West to the East and acted as a major corridor for the movement of trade and merchandise, people and cultures and at times rampaging armies that left a long trail of death and destruction. The high Pamir passes located at the heart of today's Afghanistan served a conduit of goods, people as well as ideas and facilitated the interaction between the two halves of the world and their diverse religions and civilizations.

For much of the ancient history, Afghanistan and its inhabitants were actively a part of this larger scheme, a major crossroads that brought in different people, ideas and cultures. The remains of ancient monasteries, artworks, artifacts and other historically significant remnants found throughout Afghanistan speak of a remarkably diverse mosaic of ancient cultures and people that used to ply the lands and passes of this region. The remnants of Buddhist civilizations in central Afghanistan are stretched all the way to areas in the South and West and East of the country revealing a past when Afghanistan's connections with the centers of Buddhism in the Far East were significant.

There is no conceivable reason why Afghanistan of today should not play the same role and act as a major bridgehead connecting the increasingly prosperous regions to its North, West and East as well as South. If the vicious cycle of war and destruction had not visited Afghanistan, we could have well been witness to sprawling networks of overland routes of trade and exchange of commerce and merchandise through the country bringing with it prosperity, peace and greater convergence across the greater Eurasia.

In addition to overland routes of trade and commerce, the new "pipelinistan" is what could have been an apt term for Afghanistan given the tremendous potential in hydro-carbon exploration and extraction that the region possesses. Durable peace and an end to war brought about by a re-discovery of the Afghan nation by nobody but themselves can be the very first step to unlocking the tremendous potential of a new Silk Road that Afghanistan can offer to the region and the world. The countries, cultures and civilizations of today that lie scattered throughout the landmass called Eurasia are condemned to a historic process of convergence and integration. Merging of economies and transnational movement of people, goods, capital and ideas, already happening at an accelerating speed, is an inevitable fate of the greater region in which Afghanistan is located.

Russia, China, the Central Asian countries as Afghanistan's immediate neighbors to the North as well as Iran to the West, are poised to become entangled in a tightening web of trans-Eurasian economic and political convergence and cooperation in the years and decades to come. This tightening web invariably means greater economic opportunities and rising prosperity for all the countries and regions that lay across this large landmass. The rise of China, Russia and slowly but surely other Central Asian countries as economic powerhouses can have ground-breaking implications for the broader region in general and Afghanistan in particular given the geographic proximity and these countries' demonstrated willingness to accommodate a peaceful Afghanistan in their midst.

Ideally, there should not be any reason that can stop Afghanistan from partaking in the burgeoning regional trade and prosperity. In fact, Afghanistan's drive to find its rightful place in the comity of the regional countries and its partaking of the opportunities it offers was derailed with the political upheavals of the 1970s and the subsequent years of civil war and instability. Now that Afghanistan is gearing up to return on the tack to normalcy, it can resume the imperative of building bridges of trust, cooperation and multilateral trade and investment with the countries in our broader region.

The ancient Pamir, therefore, can be revitalized with the countries in the region thinking in the right terms and pooling resources, political will and the right expertise. China, fast emerging as a global power and bent on sustaining its miracle growth rates, can be an ideal leader in this process of greater regional integration. The vast financial reserve it has accumulated is the prize resource in its hands to put into greater investment in regional development and integration. China is well positioned to intensify its campaign of investments in critical infrastructure projects across the region.

A network of roads, bridges, electric grids and other infrastructure projects across the region can be financed with Chinese money and expertise. China is already investing heavily in energy transmission infrastructure across Central Asia and in Pakistan to the South of Afghanistan. The deep water port of Gwadar on the shores of the Arabian Sea in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan is a prominent example. The Gwadar port will significantly contribute to China's energy security while it will help Pakistan's economy and its rising energy needs. Over the long-term, the Gwadar port can contribute to regional stability and economic development. The likes of such examples of regional convergence on economic and political matters need to be replicated in the broader region and across the great Eurasian landmass of which Afghanistan is a part.

The continuation of a vicious yet helpless cycle of war and destruction in Afghanistan is harming Afghanistan's chances of partaking in the opportunities that abound in the region. It is also hampering the process of regional convergence and development. The war in Afghanistan must be brought to an end and the role of Afghanistan's neighbors in it cannot be overemphasized. It takes the countries in the broader region to see the light at the end of this long tunnel and do whatever in their power to end the conflicts and open the gates towards a better future for all. In the end, it also depends on the competence of the government in Afghanistan to actively pursue this goal and do its own share and move closer to other countries of the East. In the end, a better future and a better region can prove within the grasp of all the Eurasian companions.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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