By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
28 October 2013
As the year 2014 brings important security, political and economic transitions to Afghanistan, the country is already becoming more economically connected to its neighbors, and advancements in media and communications are part of the “substantial progress” that offers reasons for optimism, a top State Department official says.The United States is working with Afghanistan and countries in Central and South Asia to create an economically vibrant and interconnected region through the “New Silk Road” initiative, which will remove cross-border trade barriers and promote economic activity.Speaking in Washington October 25, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Lynne Tracy said that as Afghanistan prepares to assume full security responsibility from international forces in 2014, the vast majority of Afghans “do not want to return to the chaos and turmoil of the 1990s. They have come too far, shed too much blood and sacrificed too much to turn back now.”
Tracy said the private sector can be the engine for Afghanistan and Central Asia’s long-term economic growth. She said Afghanistan is now more connected to the rest of the world, through the media, online and through trade, than it was in the 1990s. Its people can help consolidate these gains in partnership with its neighbors, the United States and the international community through the vision of regional economic connectivity known as the New Silk Road, she said.
“What we seek is an economically vibrant, interconnected region, in which Afghanistan is a full partner,” Tracy said, adding that the Obama administration believes “this can be achieved while remaining appropriately vigilant against the security threats emanating from terrorism, narcotics smuggling and other forms of transnational crime.”
The Asian Development Bank has reported that intraregional trade grew by an average 21 percent per year between 2001 and 2011, but Central Asia still remains the world’s least economically integrated region, with intraregional trade accounting for only 6.2 percent of global trade in the five Central Asian countries plus Afghanistan, Tracy said.
The New Silk Road vision has both physical components, such as improving transport, communications and energy infrastructure, and practices that include improved regulations and laws that will allow goods and services to flow efficiently within Central Asia and Afghanistan and between the region and the global community.
The United States has been investing significant resources and political capital to improve both components of the New Silk Road, particularly in Afghanistan, Tracy said.
“The United States has provided more than $2 billion for energy transmission lines, hydropower plants and associated energy reforms in Afghanistan. We have built or rehabilitated more than 3,000 kilometers of roads and have helped Afghanistan establish a National Rail Authority and develop a national rail plan. And with U.S. technical assistance, Afghanistan now has more than 4,000 kilometers in fiber-optic cable,” she said.
Other U.S.-supported projects include energy infrastructure projects to harness Central Asia’s gas and hydropower resources, including the CASA-1000 electricity transmission generator and the TAPI pipeline, which would distribute natural gas from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
U.S. encouragement of improved trade and border regulations can help address existing challenges, such as the amount of time trucks are stopped at border crossings, delaying their ability to get goods to market.
“Our collective goal is to bring down the costs of doing business in the region, since we all know that trade, like water, finds the path of least resistance,” Tracy said.
The United States is also working with Central Asian countries to help them join the World Trade Organization, which will help businesses in the region “cut costs, decrease wait times at the borders, and level the playing field,” she said.
Tracy praised the Asian Development Bank’s Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation program (CAREC), which she said complements the New Silk Road vision.
“CAREC is successful because the participating countries themselves decide how best to cooperate. For the world’s least economically integrated region, CAREC is a great example for how regional economic cooperation can actually work,” she said.
She also welcomed China’s investments in the region’s energy and transportation infrastructure and said China’s dramatic economic growth and proximity to Central Asia means it “is naturally going to be leader there in trade and investment.”
- State’s Tracy on “New Silk Road” and Afghanistan
- State’s Blake Encourages More South and Central Asian Integration