Kabul: The new Afghan president travels to China this week, signaling the pivotal role he hopes Beijing will play in Afghanistan's future, not only in the economic reconstruction of the war-ravaged country after US and allied combat troops leave by the end of the year but also in a strategic foreign policy aimed at building peace across a region long riven by mistrust and violence.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will leave Kabul tomorrow for a three-day visit to China, where he will meet President Xi Jinping, as well as potential investors to bankroll Afghanistan's development.
The visit to China demonstrates Ghani Ahmadzai's intention of utilizing Afghanistan's natural resources as a trade-off for infrastructure and industry, to reverse the rapid decline in economic growth since the United States and its allies began withdrawing troops two years ago.
Economic growth is seen falling to 1.5 per cent this year, the World Bank said; 2013 growth was 3.7 per cent, down from 9.4 per cent the year before.
China is one of the world's biggest supporters of resource-rich developing countries, notably in Africa where it funds development while taking large stakes in minerals assets.
Its interest is similar in Afghanistan, where it has already dabbled in mining but learned the hard way that investment in Afghanistan cannot be undertaken without considering security.
After committing to a USD 3 billion deal to develop a 5-million-ton copper deposit at Mes Aynak, near Kabul in Logar province, Chinese state-run consortium MCC pulled out its workers last year after they came under Taliban fire. The 2007 contract has since been renegotiated and work has yet to resume.
Nevertheless, the Mes Aynak contract provides a template for mining development, as it initially included road and rail links, processing plants, power generation and employment for local people. India is eyeing a USD 10 billion investment in iron ore in central Bamiyan province.
Before Ghani Ahmadzai can be sure that dollars flow from words, he needs to give assurance that work can proceed unimpeded by insurgency. So he is pursuing a foreign policy "aimed at creating mutual trust and reassurance among all our neighbors so that we can build trade and transit links," undercutting animosity that has seen Afghanistan become a proxy battleground between Pakistan and India, said Hamidullah Farooqi, a professor of economics at Kabul University and presidential adviser.
In July, Beijing appointed a special envoy to Afghanistan, Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India.
It is hosting this year's Istanbul Ministerial Process for the first time, bringing together Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the UAE and Uzbekistan, with the US, Britain and other Western countries and international organizations as observers.