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Laying the Groundwork for Afghanistan's New Silk Road
How Washington and Kabul Can Turn a Vision Into a Plan
Over the past year, the United States, as part of its broader transition strategy in Afghanistan, has embraced the promotion of regional trade and transportation as a way of fostering sustainable economic growth in the country. More broadly, this strategy would also lead to greater economic and political interdependence between Afghanistan and its neighbors. As its proponents -- myself included -- see it, Afghanistan would serve as a crossroads for rapidly developing overland trade in Eurasia, a situation that would bring along with it a measure of development and stability.
Such infrastructure would allow Afghanistan's agricultural products and mineral wealth to reach regional and global markets. Indeed, Afghanistan served this role from the ancient Silk Road period up until about 500 years ago, when sea trade and other factors diminished overland trade. But today the burgeoning emerging Eurasian economies, including China, India, Russia, and Turkey, are increasing their demand for such trade routes. It is now essential for Afghanistan's economic development, as well as its political and military security, that this role be renewed in a New Silk Road.
This vision, which has its roots in Afghanistan's own development strategies going back to 2002, was articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in July. It was reaffirmed by the UN General Assembly in September and again by the participants in last month's Istanbul Conference, who issued a statement that endorsed "Afghanistan's role as the land bridge in the 'Heart of Asia' connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia, and the Middle East."
At the heart of the New Silk Road strategy lies the promotion of trade liberalization between Afghanistan and its neighbors, with special a focus on reducing bureaucratic and administrative inefficiencies at border crossings and on improving transit and energy infrastructure. Such a focus makes sense for Afghanistan for a number of interrelated reasons.
For starters, Afghanistan is a landlocked country, which means that it has historically had reduced access to global markets. Promoting Afghanistan's connectivity to its neighbors as well as to the rest of the world is the obvious first step in beginning to think about raising the country's growth potential. Sustainable economic growth, together with improved security and political reconciliation, is an essential component of Afghanistan's stability after 2014.