US war leaves behind devastated Afghanistan
The hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government, and the advance of the Taliban have put Afghanistan in the global spotlight. While some non-US experts and politicians argue the developments in Afghanistan will irreparably damage the United States' image as a global power and it is yet another proof of the US' decline, many American experts justify Washington's decision to leave Afghanistan, emphasizing that it will allow the US to focus on, and shift more resources to, the Asia-Pacific region.
Discussions are underway on many issues, including on the future of Afghanistan's mineral resources, but a crucial issue has been missing: the fate and the future of the Afghan people.
Afghanistan has been politically unstable and mired in internal conflicts including civil wars ever since 1973 when Mohammed Daoud Khan staged a coup d'etat to overthrow King Zahir Shah and declared himself president of the country. In 1978, Khan was assassinated in the Saur Revolution, which paved the way for the Soviet incursion in late 1979. After the Soviet Union withdrew in 1989, a civil war broke out in the country, which ended when the Taliban seized power in 1996.
In 2001, the US launched the war in Afghanistan, and since then low-intensity conflicts have been simmering in Afghanistan, and the Afghan people have borne the brunt of the civil war.
Landlocked Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world. It lacks basic infrastructure, and according to World Bank data, about 43 percent of Afghanistan's $20 billion GDP was generated by foreign aid in 2020.
Worse, Afghanistan is the world leader in the production and supply of drugs, with drug production increasing manifold during the 20 years of US occupation. After two decades of failed attempts at "nation building", the US has left behind a devastated, fractured country with over 32 million people facing yet another major crisis.
So the world needs to change its approach to Afghanistan, by shifting its attention from geopolitical competition, in which Afghanistan and its people are viewed only as mere pawns in the "great game", to create conditions that would allow the Afghan people to live in peace and pursue development.
China, with its policy of building a community with a shared future for mankind, win-win cooperation and people-oriented projects, could play a bigger role in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan and help the country develop its economy. As the first step in that long journey, Afghanistan needs to build infrastructure and create jobs. The two goals are interrelated, as big infrastructure projects usually create significant numbers of new jobs.
Although Afghanistan signed a memorandum of understanding with China under the Belt and Road framework in 2016, due to the US' negative attitude toward the initiative, the MoU has mainly remained on paper. The withdrawal of the US will, hopefully, create the right opportunity for revitalizing China-Afghanistan cooperation.
Afghanistan can serve as a transit point connecting China with Iran through Central Asian countries. Recently, several railway lines have been extended by neighboring countries such as Uzbekistan, Iran and Turkmenistan up to their borders with Afghanistan but not further because Afghanistan lacks a proper railway network.
Afghanistan is rich in natural resources, including vast deposits of rare earths. According to Soviet and later American geological surveys, the estimated value of the rare earths could be $1 trillion. Afghanistan can use such resources to improve its economy and the lives of the Afghan people. But for that, Afghanistan needs political stability and partnership with foreign countries.
China and Afghanistan signed an MoU on cooperation in the mining sector in 2009 and launched a copper mining project. And in 2011, the China National Petroleum Corporation inked a preliminary agreement with Afghan officials to develop an oilfield. If stability returns to Afghanistan, such projects could be revived contributing to the country's development.
Moreover, on withdrawing from Afghanistan, the US also froze nearly $9.5 billion belonging to the central bank of Afghanistan and, possibly on US pressure, the International Monetary Fund blocked Afghanistan from accessing about $460 million in special drawing rights. It seems that even after wreaking havoc in Afghanistan, the US continues to view the country through the prism of geopolitics and doesn't care about the Afghan people.
In contrast, China, thanks to its people-oriented projects, could turn things around for Afghanistan. But for that the political elites in Afghanistan have to realize the importance of political stability, economic development and people's real needs. They also have to ensure no terrorist outfit uses Afghanistan's soil to hatch plots against or launch attacks on neighboring countries.
If they don't ensure that, Afghanistan could face more challenges from both within and outside the country.
The author is chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies, Yerevan, Armenia. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.