© Reuters Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Mansoor Ahmad Khan, speaks during the talks, this screen grab taken from a video on September 2, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
By Charlotte Greenfield
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan has discussed joining a multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project in Taliban-led Afghanistan, Pakistan’s ambassador to the country said on Monday.
“Our regional engagement is an important element of our dialogue with the Afghan leadership and our economic engagement with Afghanistan,” Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, told Reuters in an interview.
“This important project – the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor … provides better opportunities, better potential for infrastructure and energy connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan … (and) connects South Asia with the Central Asian region.”
CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has pledged more than ০ 1 trillion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, mostly in the form of loans.
Khan said the Taliban-led administration has discussed this and other ways to boost the country’s economy.
“I think CPEC has a deep interest in building Afghanistan’s economic ties with Pakistan and other neighboring countries, including Iran, China, and Central Asia.”
In recent days, representatives of Pakistan, China and Russia have met with Taliban officials. Khan said security and economic development were the two main topics of discussion and that the two countries were expected to continue consultations as a group and hold meetings with the Taliban.
Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, the country has been in an economic crisis as international aid has largely been cut off. Billions of dollars of central bank assets abroad have also been frozen, putting pressure on the banking system and disrupting most transactions involving the US dollar, which Khan said is also hampering trade.
Khan said Pakistan was trying to work with the international community to ease international sanctions on the banking system and that several officials from Pakistani financial institutions present in Afghanistan had visited Kabul in recent days to see if the situation could be improved.
The United States and other Western countries are reluctant to fund the Taliban unless the Islamist movement assures that it will support human rights, especially women’s rights.
Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and has hosted millions of Afghan refugees due to decades of conflict, is concerned about its neighbor’s economic crisis. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, and other officials have called on the international community not to isolate the Taliban administration, but to help stem the economic downturn and the influx of refugees.
Pakistan has close ties to the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the group because it has been fighting the US-backed government in Kabul for 20 years – Islamabad denies the allegations.
However, Pakistan has not yet formally recognized the Taliban-led administration, and Pakistan’s ambassador Khan told Reuters that “formal recognition issues will come later as Pakistan is part of the international community.”
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