And what did the US get for its money and lives lost?
China lays new brick in Silk Road with first Afghan rail freight
- New rail route cuts travel time and expands China’s influence
- Offers a link in Xi Jinping’s ‘one belt, one road’ endeavor
By Eltaf Najafizada
11 September 2016
For centuries, Chinese products have wended their way thousands of kilometers across mountains and deserts to the heart of central Asia, Afghanistan. Now, for the first time, the trade is carried by rail.
With the first train last week pulling in to Hairatan, northern Afghanistan, China marked another advance in President Xi Jinping’s Silk Road project to deepen his nation’s influence along old trade routes. For Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the new link also marks a small step toward a dream of turning his landlocked country into a transit hub of Asia.
Already the top investor in the war-torn country to its west, China is aiming to boost its commercial standing, as the no. 5 trading partner currently. Deepening those ties would help Afghanistan pare back the influence of Pakistan, the southern neighbor with which ties have sometimes been strained over outbreaks of violence and closures in border crossings.
“It’s an unprecedented, vital project for the Afghan economy,” said Azarakhsh Hafizi, the head of the international relations committee at Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce & Industries in the capital, Kabul. “That will greatly reduce Chinese imported commodities’ prices and unprecedentedly improve our trade with China, now standing at tens of millions of dollars.”
The train, carrying $4 million worth of commercial goods such as fabric, clothes and construction material, took just two weeks to arrive from the east coast of China, a fraction of the three-to-six months the road transit takes via Pakistan to the eastern border crossing into Afghanistan. It’s a new link in Xi’s “one belt, one road” project deepening the lattice of transport links across Eurasia, an initiative that’s coming together in fits and starts, with advances in places like Bangladesh, and setbacks in locations including Thailand.
“Without Afghan connectivity, there is no way to connect China with rest of world,” said Yao Jing, Chinese ambassador in Afghanistan, in a speech marking the first freight train’s arrival on Sept. 7. “As a neighbor, China attaches greater importance to the development and peace process in Afghanistan.”
China has for years had grand investment plans for Afghanistan’s resource riches, which the Afghanistan Geological Survey estimates are as much as $3 trillion. While the Metallurgical Corp. of China Ltd. received a license in 2007 to mine the biggest Afghan copper deposit, and China National Petroleum Corp. won a contract in 2011 to drill for oil, development of the resources is still some ways off, thanks in part to the nation’s patchy infrastructure.