Afghan President Ashraf Ghani arrived in Beijing yesterday to begin meetings with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. The recently inaugurated Ghani’s first official trip abroad as Afghanistan’s leading statesman will consist primarily of talks on the future of relations between the two countries. Ghani has made explicit his desire to strengthen relations with Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor, and believes the two countries can cooperate on areas of mutual concern. China is also interested in increasing its economic presence within Afghanistan, and has promised to invest heavily in the Afghan metals and minerals sector, as well as assist in the development of infrastructure throughout the country.
Afghan-Chinese cooperation will not be purely economic in nature. The two countries share the security concern posed by Islamic extremists, many of which inhabit ungovernable portions of the Pakistani-Afghan border. China is most concerned with separatists Uyghur groups holed up in the region, whereas the Taliban remains a top concern for Afghan officials. The two sides have pledged to combat the problem together, though how exactly is yet to be determined. Afghanistan has announced that it will help police the Wakhan Corridor, a narrow stretch by which the China-Afghanistan border can be crossed, though due to the roughness of the terrain and Kabul’s inability to govern portions of its own country, the plausibility of any sustained governance effort is difficult to imagine.
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- Azerbaijan ranked among the top three fastest growing countries in total disposable income in 2014. Euromonitor International, which tracked disposable income growth throughout the world and recently published an index, ranked Azerbaijan third, Caspian Sea neighbor Turkmenistan number one, and Kazakhstan number five. The index did warn that slowing oil growth could signal an economic downturn in all three countries within the next two to three years.
- Both Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have expressed interest in assisting Afghanistan with development issues under newly inaugurated President Ashraf Ghani. Turkmenistan agreed to supply the Western Afghan cities of Herat and Andkhoy with subsidized energy as well as new power lines and “gas turbine power plants.” Turkmen President Berdymukhamedov also pledged to construct new medical infrastructure and schools throughout Afghanistan. Tajikistan, which is expected to benefit immensely from the completion of CASA-1000, has pledged to supply Afghanistan with electricity year round. Tajikistan currently supplies Afghanistan during the summer, but cannot during the winter due to the freezing of its rivers.
- Uzbekistan has announced a new ambassador to Russia. Akhaml Kamalov, a veteran of the Uzbek diplomatic corps has been elected to replace Ziedulla Pulathodzhayev, who was dismissed as Uzbek ambassador for unknown reasons by the Uzbek parliament earlier this year.
- The Islamic Development Bank has agreed to provide the funds necessary to complete the CASA-1000 megawatt power import project. The IAB will take over the remainder of the costs from the World Bank, which will finance less than 50% of the total cost. The IAB’s allocation is expected to complete the much-anticipated power transmission network, and allow for transmission of Tajik electricity to Pakistan. The project is expected to greatly strengthen energy infrastructure throughout the region, eliminate Pakistani and Afghan energy shortages, and boost the economies of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, two of the weakest economies in the world.