Ambitious regional projects top RECCA-VI agenda
KABUL (Pajhwok): The sixth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA-VI) that began in Kabul on Thursday would discuss projects that could considerably boost the country’s development and regional trade.
Titled The Silk Road Through Afghanistan, the summit was inaugurated with dignitaries from the Presidential Palace, the Chief Executive’s office and representatives from 30 countries and 40 international and regional organizations in attendance.
The two-day conference will discuss projects concerning regional connectivity, energy, natural resources, private sector development, support and cooperation of regional countries with Afghanistan in areas of trade and investment.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the revival of Silk Road, Lapis Lazuli Transit Corridor, utilising the Chabahar Port in Iran, establishing Afghanistan-China-Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan-Iran and Afghanistan-Tajikistan-Turkmenistan railroads, and providing better job opportunities for Afghan labourers in the Gulf States top the summit agenda.
Mohammad Shakib Mustaghni, MoFA spokesman, said the Kabul summit would differ from the previous summits as it would discuss mechanisms for tracking, monitoring and follow-up of the aforementioned projects.
Lapis Lazuli Corridor:
Being a land-locked country, Afghanistan has been trying to find access to open waters through its northern neighbours with which it had less political rivalry in the past.
The Lapis Lazuli Corridor connects Afghanistan through Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia to the Black Sea and ultimately through Turkey to the Mediterranean Sea and Europe.
This is a historic corridor. Some 2,000 years back, lapis lazuli stone was exported from Badakhshan in northeastern Afghanistan through this route to Europe.
Afghan officials maintain no budget for the revival of this route is required since other countries have already built railroads and only Afghanistan needs to construct railroads on its part.
Estimations by the Afghan government show transport of a truckload through Jalalabad city in the east to Pakistan’s Karachi seaport takes 14 days at a cost of $5,000. Through Kazakhstan that is more than 6,200 kilometers it costs $4,000 and through Torghondi port to Turkey (Lapis Lazuli route) that is 2,200 kilometres, costs only $3,200.
For revival of the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, Afghan officials, say funding is required which is why they presented the plan as Afghanistan’s top priority to the London Conference
Chabahar port in southeastern Iran is located 700 kilometres from Nimroz province of Afghanistan. This port is 1,000 kilometres closer to Afghanistan than Pakistan’s Karachi seaport and the nearest access for Afghanistan to the open waters.
The bulk of Afghanistan’s trade is currently being done through Karachi seaport where Pakistani officials create many hurdles for Afghan tradesmen and use the facility as a pressure tool against the Afghan government.
The Afghan government has greatly diverted its focus to Chabahar port, where some Afghan businessmen have already bought lands.
According to historians, the Silk Road had been the most important trade route in the region and the world some 2,500 years back.
This route was China’s trade route to South Asia, West Asia, Europe and Africa through Central Asia. The route was extended to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Egypt’s Alexandria in the west.
According to Habibullah Rafi, a member of Afghanistan’s Academy of Sciences and a historian, the Silk Road in Afghanistan was connected to Kabul through Nangarhar and Laghman provinces.
Through Kabul, he added, a portion of the route was connected to northern Afghanistan and another portion to Herat in the west.
Khan Jan Alokozai, the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI) deputy head, said currently Afghan tradesmen used to shift their goods to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) before taking them to China and the revival of the Silk Road would reduce the carriage cost of trade between China and Afghanistan by five times.
This project as part of the ancient Silk Route is around 2,200 kilometres long, with 1,148 kilometres of the route going through Afghanistan.
The railroad starts from China’s Kashgar and after passing through Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan reaches Afghanistan. The railroad is expected to be connected to Iran through Sher Khan Port in Kunduz, Balkh, Jawzjan, Faryab, Badghis and Herat.
An agreement on the project was signed between the five countries last year in Tajikistan and the officials had said that technical studies of the project would be completed in 18 months.
Three-nation railway line:
The Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan railway line is 635 kilometres long out of which 430 kilometres will pass through Afghanistan territory and the remaining in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
According to the agreement between the three countries, the railway line would begin from Atta Murad locality in Turkmenistan and after going through Aqina port in Andhoi district, Shiberghan, Jawzjan capital, would connect to Tajkistan from Sher Khan Port in Kunduz province.
Afghanistan is one of the countries where railway lines could not be developed and currently only 75 kilometers of railway track is operational connecting the Hiratan port with Mazar-i-Sharif, the provincial capital of northern Balkh province.
The creation of job opportunities for Afghan labourers in the Gulf countries was another issue discussed at today’s RECCA summit.
According to a World Bank (WB) report, as many as 180,000 Afghan youth had emerged as workforce in Afghanistan since 2011, but only 60,000 of them had been able to get jobs and the remaining remained jobless.
Statistics with the Afghanistan Youth Union (AYU) show 16 million people are eligible to work in Afghanistan, but only three million of them have jobs and the remaining 13 million are jobless.
But the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD) put the number of jobless people at four million and maintains that exact survey in Afghanistan in this regard is not possible.
The MoFA spokesman said the (Central Asia South Asia) CASA-1000 and Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) gas pipeline projects were the biggest achievement of the RECCA previous summits.
He said the two projects would also be discussed at the ongoing meeting and practical works on these ambitious energy projects would commence soon.
CASA-1000 is the transfer of 1,300 megawatts of hydropower electricity from Kirghizstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan. Earlier, the MoFA said the World Bank was ready to provide $562 million for the project’s execution.
Back in 2010, the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and the Indian Energy Minister inked an accord on execution of the TAPI project.
The 1,800 km pipeline aims to export up to 33 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas per year from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan’s Herat, Farah, Helmand and Kandahar provinces into Pakistan and then to India. The pipeline will cover 174 km in Turkmenistan, 735 km in Afghanistan and 800 km in Pakistan.
Under the project, Pakistan will receive 1.365 billion cubic feet of gas per day (bcfd) from Turkmenistan, India will also get the same 1.365 bcfd and Afghanistan will receive a smaller share of 0.5 bcfd.
Pakistan and India have already signed a gas sale and purchase agreement and efforts are under way to attract potential investors to finance the laying of the pipeline.
The four countries linked with the project are currently in the process of setting up a consortium and selecting a technically capable and financially sound company as the consortium leader, which will design, finance and construct the pipeline.
Economy Minister Abdul Sattar Murad in his opening remarks said the projects being discussed at the meeting had tremendous economic importance for Afghanistan and the region. He hoped the RECCA-6 would pave the way for implementation of these projects.
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