Road of Dialogue:
Cultural contacts and people-to-people exchanges are likely to be the lasting legacy of the ancient Silk Road; therefore, it has been termed as the “Road of Dialogue” in the UNESCO Plan. To have a successful negotiation, traders had to learn the languages and traditions of the countries they traveled through. A number of travelers are believed to venture onto the Silk Road to have cultural interaction and intellectual exchanges. The dissemination of arts, science, literature, crafts, and technologies is the main reason behind the development and influences of languages, religions and cultures. For instance, the technique of making paper and development of printing press technology were one of the most technical advances propagated nationwide by the Silk Road. In terms of religion, Hinduism and Islam were introduced to Indonesia and Malaysia and Buddhism entered China by Silk Road traders. Buddhism art, shrines and sculptures are being found in Afghan provinces of Bamyan and Logar and Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Gansu. Giant Buddha and Mount Emei Temple in Leshan City, Sichuan province, where I visited few months back, clearly show the arts of Buddhism. I also had a recent visit to Mogao Caves – home to some of the biggest and most complete ancient works of Buddhism in the world – in Gansu province, named the sister city of Bamyan.
Cultural and people-to-people exchanges, reiterated by Chinese officials, are highly significant in modern era. Since we live in “the global village”, all nations need to have not only material exchanges but also cultural and intellectual interaction. So, the BRI will strengthen regional and global exchanges and bring peoples of different races, religions and ethnicities closer to one another.
Both China and Afghanistan have 5,000-year-old history with rich culture. To strengthen the spirit of brotherhood, the two nations need to deepen cultural interaction and heart-to-heart exchanges. Besides facilitating trade, the Silk Road will pave the way for seeking common grounds among nations, including the two neighboring countries China and Afghanistan. Further sharing, exchanges, and integration between Sino-Afghan nations will, in addition to cementing trade connections, promote mutual understanding and trust and enhance friendly relations.
Despite the strong bilateral ties between China and Afghanistan in terms of trade and investment, there are two major setbacks which interrupt the flow of trade:
(1) Insecurity: The Sino-Afghan close economic ties require a peaceful Afghanistan. But the protracted war in Afghanistan will wreak havoc on the country’s economy and impede trade and investment. For instance, Beijing-based China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC), leading a state-backed consortium, won the rights in 2007 to extract copper from Mes Aynak – one of the world’s largest untapped deposits and a 5,000-year-old archeological site in Afghan province of Logar containing an estimated 12.5 million tons of copper. The company bid over three billion dollars and promised to provide roads, railway and 400-megawatt electricity plant for the district, where the mine is located. However, Chinese engineers stalled their work following a series of rocket attacks in 2012 and 2013. Meanwhile, land mines left by the Soviet Union in 1980s and planted by the Taliban fighters pose further threat. In short, instability is one of the main roadblocks to trade and investment in Afghanistan to be reckoned with.
It is self-explanatory that Afghan nation has paid great sacrifice and Afghan soldiers are fighting in the frontline to put an end to the ongoing conflict. Although the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 left Afghan soldiers in the lurch, it could not weaken the strong-willed soldiers’ resolve in their mission. In spite of heavy casualties to the contrary, Afghan military forces could play an essential role in counterinsurgency.
Simultaneously, Kabul government established High Peace Council (HPC) in 2010 to persuade the Taliban to stop violence and resolve the issue through negotiation. Afghan President has constantly called warring parties, mainly the Taliban, to join peace process, which was refused by the Taliban’s leadership. Furthermore, the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) comprises Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States set up in January 2016 to find a political solution to the Afghan conflict, but it yet to bear the desired result.
Afghan officials have always viewed China as a close friend due to its concerted efforts to broker peace talks and maintain neighborly relations. The goodwill and constructive role of China regarding Afghanistan is undeniable. For instance, Beijing hosted the first China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue on 26 December 2017 with a view to strengthening trilateral trust, deepening cooperation based on the Five Principles of peaceful coexistence and advocating Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace talks. This dialogue was held with the efforts of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who made trips to Afghanistan and Pakistan to arrange the dialogue.
The fact is that Kabul government is not able to deal with terrorism by itself, in turn, it welcomes the positive role of all states, mainly its historical neighbor China. To maintain regional peace and stability, Kabul urges the entire region to play its role in combating terrorism and support Afghanistan in this regard – this will be the only panacea for the ongoing challenges not only in Afghanistan but across the region.
(2) Absence of direct roadway: Based on interviews I had with Afghan traders who attended the 5th China-South Asia Expo, in which Afghanistan participated as a theme country, the railroad connecting China and Afghanistan through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan has two problems: First, it is too long and import-export via such a long route will not only take much time but also cost an arm and a leg. Second, the tankers shipping Chinese goods to Afghanistan return back without carrying goods from other side and importing goods from Afghanistan does not take place, which is against the win-win result. Since Afghanistan and China share land border, it is hoped that the two sides will found a direct railroad in the future so that both could enjoy the fruit of easy and cheap shipment.
Generally speaking, the BRI put forward by Chinese President plays an instrumental role in global trade and transit. In addition to boosting connectivity and commercial activities, this megaproject will also enhance cultural contact and people-to-people interaction.
Afghanistan is one of the states which seeks to contribute to this significant project through aligning its economic activities in the frame of BRI so that it could participate in regional cooperation and regain its position as “center of the Asian crossroads”. The geopolitical exclusiveness, historical relics, and cultural richness of Afghanistan are of great importance for the BRI to come to fruition. Thus, the role of Afghanistan should not be downplayed.
Although instability is an obstacle before economic development in Afghanistan, it will be resolved through regional and global participation in combating terrorism and supporting Afghan soldiers who are fighting in the frontline. Afghanistan’s neighboring countries and international allies are expected to take more concrete steps in eliminating terrorism.
The Sino-Afghan friendly relation will catalyze bilateral trade and contribute to regional cooperation. That is, Kabul government seeks to strengthen a friendly bond with the world in general and with China in particular and will play its role constructively in regional and global issues, including the BRI.
Road of Dialogue: