ISLAMABAD: Khalid Mansoor, the head of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Authority, said on Saturday Pakistan was seeking the expansion of the multibillion-dollar infrastructure and energy project to Afghanistan, local media reported.
CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.
Addressing the ‘CPEC Summit’ at the Institute of Business Administration in Karachi, the special assistant to the prime minister (SAPM) on CPEC affairs “said Islamabad was seeking the expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan and has discussed the possibility of Taliban-led Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar economic corridor,” Dawn newspaper reported.
Mansoor said there was “deep interest” in Islamabad in developing economic connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as other neighboring countries, including Iran.
“Some European countries have started showing interest (in CPEC) also,” he added.
Last month, Pakistan’s envoy in Kabul said Pakistan had held discussions with the Afghan Taliban on joining CPEC.
“Regional connectivity is an important element of our discussion with Afghan leadership and our way forward for our economic interaction with Afghanistan,” Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul, said in an interview with Reuters in September.
“This important project — China Pakistan Economic Corridor ... provides good opportunities, good potential for providing infrastructure and energy connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan ... (and) also connecting South Asia to the Central Asian region.”
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, the country has been plunged into economic crisis as the nation’s international assistance has been largely cut off. Billions of dollars in central bank assets held abroad have also been frozen, which has put pressure on the banking system and prevented most transactions involving US dollars, which has also hampered trade.
Pakistan has been trying to work with the international community to ease international restrictions on the banking system and several executives from Pakistani financial institutions with a presence in Afghanistan had visited Kabul in recent days to see if the situation could be improved should international limits end.
The United States and other Western nations are reluctant to provide the Taliban with funds until the movement provides assurances that it will uphold human rights, and in particular the rights of women.
Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and hosts millions of Afghan refugees from decades of conflict, is concerned about the economic crisis hitting its neighbor. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, and other officials have urged the international community not to isolate the Taliban administration, saying aid should be provided to prevent economic collapse and a wave of refugees.
Pakistan has had deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the group as it battled the US-backed government in Kabul for 20 years — charges denied by Islamabad.
Pakistan has not yet formally recognized the Taliban-led administration.