Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Friday, December 14th, 2018

What’s the geographical importance of Afghanistan?

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What’s the geographical importance of Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is located at the center of a region that has great geo-economical potential but its geo- strategic and geo- political location has been a deterrent challenge historically. Its position in the ancient Silk Route, South Asia, and presence in the middle of important neighboring countries are the factors which have served as an advantage as well as disadvantage for the country depending on how effectively the opportunity has been exploited by the Afghan rulers. One of the important advantage has been the use of Afghanistan as transit and transport hub between Central Asia and South Asia. However, decades of war and political instability resulted in loss of this golden economic opportunity. After the fall of Taliban, it was expected that the new government would refocus on the revival of the lost opportunity but unfortunately no satisfactory result has gained yet. This is possible if the government can hold right strategies to take the country towards self- sustainability by ensuring security and fighting corruption, provide the needed soft and hard infrastructure, and economic and regional integration.      
As aforementioned Afghanistan is located at the heart of the ancient Silk Route. The northern route which splits in the west of Kashgher has a southern branch which heads down towards Balkh province. The southern route or Karakoram was mainly single route running from China through Karakoram mountains connects Pakistan and China. It then sets off westward, but with southward branches, it enables to complete the journey by sea from various points. Later, it passes through norther part of Pakistan over the mountain of Hindukush and then into Afghanistan where it joins the northern route again near Turkmenistan. Afghanistan’s strategic location along the Silk Route connected it with the Middle Eastern and other Asian cultures.
Afghanistan is called the heart of Asian or land link country because it is surrounded by six countries. It has borders with Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan in the north, with Iran in the west, with Pakistan in the south- east, and China in the remote east. Further, although the country has no direct land contact with India, the proximity is very close to call both countries neighbors. In the light of strategic context outlined above, Afghanistan is in great position to link the markets of South Asia, Middle East, Central Asia and China as a transit and transport hub.  therefore, the government need to pave the way for the golden opportunity to be explored. As such, the government would have to rely on the private sector as an engine to lead the country towards a self-sustaining economy. This is possible only if the government can create enabling environment for private sector development. 
In addition to Afghanistan’s strategical locations, it has very rich natural and mineral resources. Hajigak mines of Bamyan province house iron and other minerals of $1 trillion worth. metals, lithium, gemstones and above all hydrocarbons, some of which have been discovered while most remains un-explored, owing to the ongoing conflict. According to Afghan and American Geological Surveys, conducted between 2007and 2009, deposits of copper, mercury, rare-earth elements, sulfur, chromite’s, asbestos, potash, graphite, and sand and gravel were found in over 20 mineralized areas.  The survey revealed that the most significant known metal deposits are of copper and iron. The total copper resources in Afghanistan range up to 60 million metric tons of copper of which the sediment-hosted copper deposits at Aynak are estimated to contain nearly 30 million metric tons’ copper. Resources in undiscovered porphyry copper and skarn deposits are estimated to be about 28.5 million metric tons of copper, with additional molybdenum, gold, and silver resources. Sedimentary iron deposits are abundant, and the Haji Gak and surrounding deposits are estimated to contain about 2,260 million metric tons of iron ore with grades higher than 62 weight percent iron.
By the way, the main question is how can we exploit from the two unexploited, geo-economic location and mineral, resources of this country? Given ability of the government and capability of private sector, the public private partnership (PPP) can be suggested as a practicable solution as successfully experimented in many countries such as India, South Korea and Thailand both in mega infrastructure projects and exploitation of mineral resources. However, the government would be required to start from the grass root level. At the moment, it seems that there is no law or regulation about PPP in the country. The mega infrastructure projects like rail road network in the country would require such modern approaches as it resulted in many developed and developing countries. We should not forget that infrastructure is a prerequisite for any country to become a transit and transport hub while it has remained beyond the ability of government to go alone.
Moreover, the transit and transport projects are not feasible without regional and even international integration. It means, no confrontation policy is in the interest of the country like Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan is already some regional and economic forums like South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) but the participation of Afghanistan has not been very effective. One of the reasons is low capacity of government organization like Ministry of Commerce and Industries (MoCI), which are the lead for these platforms. Apart from MoCI, other organizations like Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan (EPAA), Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ACCI), and Afghanistan Investment Support Agency (AISA) have to play their role in economic and regional integration by attending and organizing expos, trade events, exhibitions, and other relevant interventions.

Mohammad Zahir Akbari is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at mohammadzahirakbari@gmail.com

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