Pakistan discussing expansion of CPEC to Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has discussed Taliban-led Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project, the Pakistani ambassador to the country said.

“Regional connectivity is an important element of our discussion with Afghan leadership and our way forward for our economic interaction with Afghanistan,” said Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul, in an interview with Reuters.

“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.”

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.

Khan said that discussions had been held with the Taliban-led administration on this and other ways to develop the country’s economy.

“I think there has been deep interest in terms of developing economic connectivity of Afghanistan with Pakistan through CPEC and with other neighbouring countries including Iran, China, Central Asian countries.”

In recent days representatives from Pakistan, China and Russia have held meetings with Taliban officials. Khan said security and economic development were the two main topics under discussion and that these countries expected to continue to consult as a group and meet with the Taliban going forward.

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on Aug. 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 U.S. dollars, which Khan said was also hampering trade.

Khan said that Pakistan was also 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.