Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, May 26th, 2019

The Lapis Lazuli corridor: the National Priorities and Strategic Engagements

Afghanistan on Thursday opened a new international trade route aimed at establishing direct access to Central Asia and Europe as it seeks to build up an economy wrecked by decades of war and reduce reliance on Pakistan.
The Lapis Lazuli corridor connects Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey via road and rail that is most appropriate transit trade route in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Central Europe and also connects effectively South Asia to European countries. The importance of this route to Afghanistan is, an alternative and shortest, cheapest and safest way to the aforementioned areas.
The Lapis Lazuli begins from Aqina in northern Faryab province and Turqundi in western Herat province of Afghanistan and continues to Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan and after passing Caspian Sea, arrives Baku, the Azerbaijan’s capital and then it connects Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and also to the ports of Polti and Batumi of Georgia. And then get cities of Kars and Istanbul of Turkey and finally ends Europe.
An analysis of the geopolitical position of each member country reveals important implications for the global and regional political economy.
The first country, Afghanistan, celebrated the agreement as an important development that would heal its long standing economic plague to a great extent. As a landlocked country, Afghanistan has mainly relied on Pakistan for its international trade in the light of international conventions and bilateral agreements like the Afghanistan Transit Trade Agreement (ATTA) and Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA). However, these legal frameworks have not helped; the country’s economy continues to suffer due to transit trade challenges posed by Pakistan. In this context, the Lapis Lazuli corridor would diversify Afghanistan’s transit routes and has been interpreted as the shortest, cheapest, and most reliable route for Afghanistan’s trade with Europe. Beyond transit trade, the agreement is a strategic step toward the integration of Afghanistan in the region and securing its economic future by designating it as a hub to connect the markets of South Asia, Central Asia, and Middle East.
The next destination of the Lapis Lazuli route is Turkmenistan. The country is the fourth largest producer of natural gas in the world with exports to Russia, China, and Iran.    Turkmenistan is aware of the risks associated with its heavy reliance on the hydrocarbon industry and has been planning to diversify the economy. As part of its economic diversification agenda under the strategic national priorities as outlined in the National Program for Socioeconomic Development 2011-2030, it has embarked on an ambitious objective to become a transnational transit corridor, including Black Sea and Caspian Sea connections.  In this context, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor agreement is in line with country’s strategic priorities. It will integrate the country more strongly with the South Caucasus and provide access to a world of economic opportunities.
The next destination of the Lapis Lazuli route is Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s  decision to sign the Lapis Lazuli agreement is not only aligned with its typical geopolitical stance but would also counter similar regional moves  by U.S. rivals Iran, China, and Russia to a great extent.
The next stop of Lapis lazuli Corridor is Georgia, a country which shares borders with Russia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, with Black Sea to its west. Georgia is a transit route for Azerbaijani oil and gas to reach Turkey.
Turkey is further aiming to turn into an energy hub for the EU. At the moment, Russia is the biggest supplier of oil and gas to the EU. As part of diversification efforts and to decrease dependence on Russia, the United States and EU are backing initiatives like the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which would carry gas from the Caspian and Middle East to Austria in Central Europe, and turn Turkey into an energy crossroads. 
In the light of countrywide geopolitical situation presented above, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor coincides with the national priorities of the member countries on one hand and U.S. Afghanistan strategic engagement on the other hand. Further, it can ensure regional development through increased integration and economic cooperation, with implications for overall development in the region.