| Lynne O’Donnell |
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The new Afghan president travels to China this week, signalling the pivotal role he hopes Beijing will play in Afghanistan’s future, not only in the economic reconstruction of the war-ravaged country after US and allied combat troops leave by the end of the year but also in a strategic foreign policy aimed at building peace across a region long dri-ven by mistrust and violence.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will leave Kabul on Tuesday for a three-day visit to China, where he will meet President Xi Jinping, as well as potential investors to bankroll Afghanistan’s development as it emerges from 30 years of war impoverished, wracked by corruption, and still struggling to contain the Taleban insurgency.
He will lead a delegation of Afghan business-men at a summit where he hopes to attract Chi-nese investment to develop a mining industry as the bedrock of the economy, after more than a decade of dependence on international military and aid largesse. He will also attend the multilateral Istanbul Ministerial Process to discuss regional security, economic and political issues.
Since he was sworn into office in late Septem-ber, the president’s first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia on Saturday on a religious pilgrimage fulfilling an election promise.
The visit to China demonstrates Ghani Ahmadzai’s intention of utilising Afghanistan’s natural resources as a trade-off for infrastructure and industry, to reverse the rapid decline in economic growth since the United States and its allies began withdrawing troops two years ago.
Economic growth is seen falling to 1.5 per cent this year, the World Bank said; 2013 growth was 3.7 per cent, down from 9.4 per cent the year before.
China is one of the world’s biggest supporters of resource-rich developing countries, notably in Africa where it funds development while ta-king large stakes in minerals assets. Its interest is similar in Afghanistan, where it has already dabbled in mining but learned the hard way that investment in Afghanistan cannot be undertaken without considering security.
The country has an estimated US$3 trillion worth of natural resources, including copper, iron ore, silver, gold, coal, gems and minor metals such as chromite. Little has been exploited because there is no infrastructure and war wages on. China is active in oil production in the north of Afghanistan.
After committing to a $3 billion deal to develop a five-million-tonne copper deposit at Mes Aynak, near Kabul in Logar province, Chinese state-run consortium MCC pulled out its workers last year after they came under Taleban fire. The 2007 contract has since been renegotiated and work has yet to resume.
Nevertheless, the Mes Aynak contract provides a template for mining development, as it initially included road and rail links, processing plants, power generation and employment for local peo-ple. India is eyeing a $10 billion investment in
iron ore in central Bamiyan province.
Before Ghani Ahmadzai can be sure that dollars flow from words, he needs to give assurance that work can proceed unimpeded by insurgency.
So he is pursuing a foreign policy “aimed at creating mutual trust and reassurance among all our neighbours so that we can build trade and transit links”, undercutting animosity that has seen Afghanistan become a proxy battleground between Pakistan and India, said Hamidullah Farooqi, a professor of economics at Kabul Uni-versity and presidential adviser.
Afghanistan and China share a border of 76 kilometres between the Wakhan Corridor and China’s far western Xinjiang region, home to ethnic Uighur Muslims. Radical Uighurs have
been blamed for attacks across China in recent years, and Beijing fears that a security break-
down in Afghanistan could have implications for its own extremist problem.
“China is under a lot of pressure from its own home-grown extremists, so regional security is a great concern,” Farooqi said.
In July, Beijing appointed a special envoy to Afghanistan, Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India.
It is hosting this year’s Istanbul Ministerial Process for the first time, bringing together Afgha-nistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ta-jikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the UAE and Uzbekistan, with the US, Britain and other Wes-tern countries and international organisations as observers.